Southard’s department serves about 200,000 of the county’s 300,000 severely mentally ill people. An estimated 6 percent to 11 percent of the population has a serious emotional disturbance or mental illness, including 686,000 children and adults in the county. The pending release of the funds comes as a panel of child welfare experts raised “serious” concerns in August that the county has failed to provide mental health services to thousands of foster children, with many winding up in group homes and psychiatric hospitals. A federal judge appointed the experts as part of two lawsuit settlements in the last several years that required the county to improve mental health treatment in its child protective system. Melinda Bird, managing attorney at the Los Angeles office of Protection and Advocacy Inc., one of the public interest firms that filed the lawsuits, said the state and especially the county lag significantly behind other jurisdictions in their ability to provide community-based mental health services. “We remain concerned that the state and the county are not looking at the underlying system failures in the way they use Medi-Cal dollars and this is a key issue because the … dollars are intended to supplement those,” Bird said. William Tower, California director of the 74,000-member American Family Rights Association, called on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in July to order an investigation into the abuse of foster children with dangerous psychotropic drugs. Tower said Tuesday he is concerned about the expansion of mental health services under Proposition 63 because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued warnings that some psychotropic drugs can lead children to contemplate committing suicide. “What they are doing is just throwing drugs at kids and it’s hit or miss,” Tower said. “If you read the black labels on the sides of those bottles, it would scare anybody to death. They are making them worse rather than helping them. It petrifies me that they are using these people as guinea pigs when they are using our tax dollars to experiment on people.” But Southard said medications given to foster children are reviewed and approved by a judge. “And we had (University of California, Los Angeles) do a study on the use of medication among our public mental health system and what they found was a slight undermedication,” Southard said. “They felt we didn’t use quite enough medication.” Troy Anderson, (213) 974-8985 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! Following voter approval of an income tax on millionaires, Los Angeles County supervisors voted Tuesday to spend $280 million over the next three years to overhaul the region’s underfunded mental health system. The board’s vote allows officials to begin selecting private agencies that will provide mentally ill people with treatment, housing and job training. “If we do this right, it should make a significant, positive impact on turning this situation around,” said Marvin Southard, director of the county Mental Health Department. “In five years, I would expect that Skid Row would look different as a result of what we are doing and we would have many more residential facilities than we have now for people with severe mental illnesses.” The funds – totaling $750 million a year statewide and up to $1 billion when federal matches are included – are the result of Proposition 63, approved last November, which levies a 1 percent income tax on people earning more than $1 million a year. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREWalnut’s Malik Khouzam voted Southern California Boys Athlete of the Week The extra funding comes three decades after former Gov. Ronald Reagan closed most of the state’s mental hospitals and a decade after the county closed about 20 mental health clinics due to budget problems. The hospitals and clinics were never reopened and thousands of mentally ill people now live on the streets. Southard said he expects the state to release the funds in January – if it approves the county’s plan on how to spend the money. Initially, about half the $90 million in annual funds will be used to provide housing for 4,500 severely mentally ill people, including many who are now homeless or in jail. The other half will be used to provide mental health and other services to more than 52,000 people, including foster children, youth in the county’s probation system and juvenile halls, and people who rotate through the county’s psychiatric emergency rooms. The plan also calls for providing services for an additional 100,000 family members and individuals with less severe conditions.