Elian Gonzalez has inspired endless rhetoric on the sanctity of the bond between parent and child. But in a hidden tragedy that has been going on for 20 years, thousands of children, usually less photogenic than Elian, have been torn from their families by states, as the unintended result of a wrinkle in the Social Security Act.

In a new report, the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law reports that in about half the states, families of severely disturbed children are routinely forced to choose between retaining custody and obtaining treatment.

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