No one wants to hospitalize their child, but at times it may be necessary and the only way to help your child. Hospitalization may be necessary because the child is:

  • Thinking about hurting oneself or others
  • Seeing or hearing things (hallucinations)
  • Having bizarre or paranoid thoughts (delusions)
  • Being extremely aggressive or destructive
  • Using drugs or alcohol and refusing to stop
  • Not eating or sleeping for an extended period of time
  • Exhibiting severe psychiatric symptoms (e.g. anxiety, mania, or depression) that have not responded to outpatient treatment

Most hospitalizations require that you come through the emergency department first. A mental health professional will evaluate your child to determine whether hospitalization is necessary. It can take a long time in the emergency room for someone to make the evaluation, obtain insurance authorization, and then arrange admission to the hospital. This process can be exhausting and very frustrating on top of worrying about your child’s condition.

Depending upon the child’s age, hospitalization may be at a special psychiatric hospital with a children’s unit or, if the child is over 16, the child could be hospitalized in a psychiatric unit at a general hospital. You should have a say in what hospital your child is referred to, but the choice may be influenced by your insurance coverage and/or the availability of beds.

Here are some things to expect if your child is hospitalized:

  • You will have to stay with your child while they are in the emergency room, which may take as long as 24 hours.
  • If your child needs to be transported to a different hospital, you are not permitted to transport them. They will be taken by ambulance, but you must accompany them. You may be asked to ride in the ambulance with your child or to follow in your car.
  • On admission of your child to the psychiatric unit of a hospital, you will be given information on how to contact the nursing station, how to contact your child via telephone, and when visiting hours are. Additional information may be provided at this time.
  • You will be allowed to bring clothing and personal items to your child, but some items are banned. It is best to ask in advance if an item is allowed or it will be locked up.
  • Within a short time after your child’s admission to the hospital, you will be contacted by the mental health professional assigned as the case clinician for your child, who will set up a time to meet with you and discuss a treatment plan. You should be an integral part of the development of the treatment plan. You know your child best.
  • The case clinician may be a psychiatrist, a psychologist, or a social worker. This staff person will work most closely with you and your child. The case clinician is responsible for contacting your child’s outpatient providers, making recommendations for additional service needs and coordinating your child’s discharge and aftercare plan. If you have questions about your child’s treatment plan or care, the case clinician would be the primary person to contact.
  • The case clinician should meet frequently with your child.
  • Family therapy is usually required as an integral part of the child’s treatment while hospitalized. This is led by the child’s case clinician.
  • A treatment team, consisting of the case clinician, psychiatrist, nurse, and other unit staff will meet daily to discuss your child’s progress.
  • It may be recommended that medications be added or changed – the hospital psychiatrist should discuss this with you.
  • Schooling is not normally provided during acute hospital stays.
  • Discharge will be arranged as soon as is safely possible, which may be in just a few days.

Preparing for discharge from a child’s hospitalization can be a very frightening time for many families. Here are some things you should know:

Discharge Planning Requirements

Hospitals are required to prepare a discharge plan as soon as possible after a child has been admitted. Discharge planning should include:

  • Mental health treatment
  • Medications
  • Case management
  • Transportation
  • Education
  • Housing

You must be a part of the discharge planning process for your child. If you have complaints about your child’s discharge plan, or feel that your child is being discharged too quickly, you may contact the hospital’s internal complaint department, or contact the Maryland Office of Health Care Quality 410.402.8016.

Having a child hospitalized can bring up all kinds of emotions for parents. Some typical reactions are anxiety about what will happen to the child during hospitalization; relief that the child is in a safe place and getting help; and guilt, shame, anger, or sadness that the child needs to be hospitalized. The hospital environment can be both intimidating and overwhelming to parents. Here are some important things to keep in mind as you go through the experience of your child’s hospitalization:

Keep in regular communication with hospital staff. You can help the staff by giving them any information you have on the child’s presenting symptoms, his/her treatment history, and what has worked or not worked in the past.

You will be invited to visit your child during certain hours at the hospital. This is an important opportunity to provide your child with support and reassurance, and to check in about his experience.

Having a child hospitalized can bring up all kinds of emotions for parents. Some typical reactions are anxiety about what will happen to the child during hospitalization; relief that the child is in a safe place and getting help; and guilt, shame, anger, or sadness that the child needs to be hospitalized. The hospital environment can be both intimidating and overwhelming to parents. Here are some important things to keep in mind as you go through the experience of your child’s hospitalization:

  • Keep in regular communication with hospital staff. You can help the staff by giving them any information you have on the child’s presenting symptoms, his/her treatment history, and what has worked or not worked in the past.
  • You will be invited to visit your child during certain hours at the hospital. This is an important opportunity to provide your child with support and reassurance, and to check in about his experience.
  • Try to keep visits pleasant and avoid using visits as an opportunity for expressing anger or to resolve major family issues. Save that for therapy sessions.
  • Keep in mind that it may take time for your child to get accustomed to the hospitalization and begin working on the issues that have brought him there.
  • Because hospitalization is often stressful and brings up many feelings for parents, you may find yourself frustrated with the hospital staff and other mental health professionals working with your family. This frustration is normal; express your concerns.
  • Ask for help from trusted family and friends with getting household tasks done and looking after other children. Hospitalization can put a strain on any family. You will need to make time for treatment meetings and hospital visitations, and it may not be possible to maintain a normal schedule.
  • Take good care of yourself. Talking to people you trust can be helpful – whether that be family members, close friends, or mental health professionals. Realize you may be more fatigued than usual and get rest when you can.