Families Grapple With Costs of Childhood Schizophrenia

Photo: Families Grapple With Costs of Childhood Schizophrenia: Months-Long Hospitalizations and Marital Stress Among Challenges Facing Families Whose Kids Suffer From Severe Mental Illness

Thirty miles north of Los Angeles, in a community in the Santa Clarita Valley, Michael Schofield rushes home at 5 p.m. to meet his wife Susan. It's the time of day when Michael and Susan swap their two young children.

Michael has been taking care of the couple's 2-year-old son, Bodhi, since the previous night. Susan has been in charge of their 7-year-old daughter, Jani. They convene in the parking lot of the apartment complex where the couple rents two separate apartments -- one for Jani, and one for Bodhi. United for a brief moment, the family hovers as Michael and Susan discuss their schedules. Then Michael leads Jani back to her apartment, while Susan carries Bodhi back to his.

Since the age of 5, Jani has experienced violent and commanding hallucinations, in the form of numbers and animals that instructed her to hit, kick and bite her parents and baby brother.

Early in the summer of 2009, the Schofields started living apart as a way to help manage Jani's battle with childhood-onset schizophrenia. After several years of living with the disease, Michael and Susan decided that to protect both children, they had to live in separate spaces.

"She was 5 years old, and she came up to me and said, 'Mommy, I -- I can't tell the real world from my imaginary world,'" Susan Schofield told ABC News correspondent Jay Schadler.

Caring for Jani: A Full-Time Job

By 2009, Jani's schizophrenia was so debilitating that she spent a total of 207 days in UCLA's child and adolescent psychiatric ward. Her doctors said they believe she hallucinates during all of her waking hours.

Jani's parents must stop her from obeying the commands of her hallucinations. They monitor her daily intake of powerful antipsychotic medications, and protect themselves and Bodhi from Jani's occasional bouts of violence.

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The Schofields face a financial fight as well. Keeping the two apartments has put immense economic strain on the family. Susan was laid off from her job as a news and traffic reporter in September 2008. Michael took a leave from his job at a state university in the fall of 2009 to help care for Jani. Paying for two rental properties, various medications, psychiatric therapy and food stretched their finances to such a limit that at one point, Michael resorted to asking for financial help from friends online.

Michael and Susan Schofield have also battled insurance companies to help pay for their daughter's hospitalizations. Jani's hospital stays have been covered jointly by state and private insurance. The Schofields said that before they took their story public, their private insurance company would frequently refuse authorization for hospital stays after two weeks, no matter what Jani's condition.

Paranoid Schizophrenia Haunts 9-Year-Old

During one of her stays at UCLA, Jani met 9-year-old Rebecca, who who'd been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. Like Jani, Rebecca had been battling hallucinations for years. But instead of rats, cats and numbers, Rebecca sees frightening images like wolves, men with monster faces, and shadows and shapes that would scamper around a darkened room at night.

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