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Homeless. Jail. Sexually exploited. The Game of Life never talked about this.

11Alive investigative series exposes the gaps in Georgia's mental health care system that cause thousands of children to be surrendered to state custody.

Rebecca Lindstrom

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Published: 3:15 PM EDT October 14, 2021
Updated: 9:51 AM EST January 25, 2022

It's been called "trading custody for care" and even a "passport to services" - the decision to turn custody of your child over to the state. 

It sounds cruel. But listen to the stories of those who have done it, and you'll quickly realize it is often a heartbreaking act of love.

The families confronted with this decision may be out of ideas for how to keep their children with autism safe as they violently fling their bodies against a wall. Parents struggle as children with dual diagnoses like impulse control disorder and intellectual disability wander out their door and into the arms of child predators. 

The stories are real. For parents navigating programs that try to help, looking for the one that will actually make a difference, it is exhausting. 

Credit: WXIA

As part of a data fellowship with USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism, 11Alive's investigative team, The Reveal, wants to show how the challenges of raising children with severe emotional and developmental disabilities can lead to abandonment. 

In the past five years, 1,268 Georgia children were abandoned or surrendered due to a parent's inability to cope or the child's behavior. More than half of those children were surrendered twice - either abandoned again by their parents, another family member, a foster parent, or an institution that thought it could help.

These are their stories.

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