What is a mental health advocate?

A mental health advocate is an attorney employed by the state of Louisiana to protect patient rights and represent the wishes of adults and children who are receiving treatment in behavioral health facilities under Title 28, Louisiana’s Mental Health Law, and Louisiana’s Children’s Code. Attorneys answer patients’ questions about their hospitalizations over the phone or in person on the unit, negotiate with hospital staff, initiate proceedings on behalf of patients who request assistance, and defend patients in mental health proceedings filed by hospitals or others.

Someone I know is hospitalized for mental illness and wants help, what do I do?

State law requires behavioral health treatment facilities to give patients on admission information about MHAS and our contact information.  Also, our phone number is posted on the unit and patients are allowed to call at any time.

Why doesn’t MHAS represent behavioral health patients in all types of cases?

Louisiana law specifies the cases in which MHAS can represent clients. MHAS lawyers specialize in mental health and child welfare law and do not have a general law practice.

Where is MHAS located?

The service has offices throughout the state:  on the grounds of Central Louisiana State Hospital in Pineville, Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System in Jackson, and Northlake Behavioral Health System in Mandeville, and in Shreveport, Lake Charles, Lafayette, New Orleans, Livingston.  The main administrative office is in Baton Rouge.

What is the Child Advocacy Program?

The Child Advocacy Program (CAP) is established within MHAS to provide qualified legal counsel to children in “need of care” (abuse and neglect) cases. MHAS operates CAP in nineteen parishes: Caddo, Calcasieu, Cameron, St. Mary, St. Martin, Iberia, East Baton Rouge, St. Helena, Livingston, Tangipahoa, Washington, St. Tammany, Orleans, Plaquemine, Iberville, Pointe Coupee, West Baton Rouge, East Feliciana, and West Feliciana. The program is also in Denham Springs City Court, Covington City Court, Slidell City Court and Morgan City. A similar service is available in other parishes through the local legal services corporations. The law requires that the court appoint CAP in those areas where it operates.

What type of representation does CAP provide to children?

Louisiana has adopted the “direct representation” model for children in abuse and neglect cases.  MHAS attorneys are required to explain the proceedings to the child in an age-appropriate manner, ascertain the expressed wishes of the child, and represent those wishes in court.  If the attorney cannot ascertain the child’s wishes, or thinks the child’s wishes will cause the child harm, the attorney may request the court to appoint a CASA volunteer to the case.

What is a CASA volunteer?

CASA is a Court Appointed Special Advocate. A CASA is not an attorney but a lay advocate who volunteers his or her time to get to know the children in abuse and neglect cases and advocate for their best interests.  They are sometimes called the “eyes and ears” of the court because they don’t represent the wishes of any one party, just the best interest of the child.  They attend all court hearings and meetings, issue reports to the court, testify, and stay on the case until it is closed and the child is in a safe and permanent home.

Someone I know was appointed an MHAS attorney, how do I find out who it is?

The cases of all of our clients, children or adult, mental health or CAP, are “closed” cases, which means that no one can get or give information about them without a court order. Even the fact that someone is our client, child or adult, is confidential and cannot be disclosed.

How do I know if an MHAS attorney is doing what they are supposed to be doing?

Attorneys representing mental health patients, children and adult, are bound by the normal rules of professionalism and ethics that apply to all attorneys.  Attorneys representing children in child abuse and neglect cases are also required to follow special rules promulgated by the Louisiana Supreme Court (see DOCUMENTS). Any concerns should be directed to your attorney.  If you do not have an attorney, you should bring your concern to the attention of the judge at a hearing.  You can also report any concerns to the MHAS attorney supervisor in the office nearest you.