Leaving Your Child

Someone will sort through your child’s belongings and decide what can and can’t stay on the unit. Anything sharp, made of glass or long enough to tie around the neck (including belts, drawstrings and shoelaces) will not be permitted. Some hospitals do a body check, so that the hospital has an inventory of the patient’s wounds and scars prior to entry. Then your child will be brought to her room. You will probably be allowed to go along to say goodbye.

The psychiatric unit will almost certainly be locked with a two-stage door system. You will later have to show ID to enter, and phones with cameras are usually not allowed (so no one can post pictures of patients online). A nurse on the unit will ask you whose names should be placed on the visitor list. In some cases only family is permitted. List only people who will be helpful.

Sometime before you leave, ask under what circumstances the hospital will reach out to you. There are likely to be only three situations that trigger a phone call:

  1. They want to add to or change your child’s medication and need your permission to do so. They will only contact you for new meds, not for subsequent increases or decreases in dosage. If you get a call like this, write down the date, time, name of the doctor and what was said.
  2. Your child has been involved in an “incident.” This may be a physical accident (rare), injury caused by another patient (rare) or notification that your child was taken to a seclusion room because she became violent. If you get a call like this, ask for details. Write the account down in a notebook, record the date of the call and the name of the person calling and later speak to your child to get her version of the story.
  3. They want to set up a “family meeting” to discuss plans for discharge. This will happen several days or even a week before the actual discharge, because it takes a while to put plans in place. “Family” in this case means the parent, the child, a social worker and usually the psychiatrist. Take notes at the meeting, or bring someone (spouse or relative, preferably in casual business attire) to take notes for you. If you did not already have a treatment team prior to hospitalization, the social worker will help you find one; in most states you will need an appointment on the books before discharge. Private-pay hospitals may not need to follow the same procedures.