Across Washington state, hospital staff are reporting that children in need of psychiatric care are being kept in pediatric emergency rooms for days or weeks because there is nowhere else for them to go.

This situation is referred to as “boarding,” where a person living in a hospital emergency room is in limbo, stuck in a unit ill-suited to their needs until a long-term psychiatric bed opens up.

Children are kept in the emergency department because they aren’t safe outside it — they might be suicidal, homicidal or need to be treated for hallucinations or psychosis. But ERs do not have the staff, training or physical safety precautions in place to treat children with significant long-term mental health concerns.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of kids across Washington have been “boarded” inside emergency departments in recent years — and the problem is getting worse.

You can read our series of stories, as well as resource guides to help navigate conversations between families about mental health, below:

If you have questions about this series or have a story to share, email reporter Hannah Furfaro at