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A Clear and Present Danger

By Chris Klicka
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #64, 2005.

How should homeschoolers respond to legislation promoting mental health screenings?

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Chris Klicka

How is your kid's mental health? The government would like to know.

An alarming trend that we all need to be aware of is beginning to spread across the country. We all need to work to defeat these mandatory mental health screenings as soon as they raise their ugly head.

Illinois Is On the Move

A little over two years ago, Illinois had a sudden and dramatic shift in their state government: the governor, Senate and House all flipped to the Democratic Party. The liberal agenda began to move. One of the items high on their agenda was the passage of a universal health screening bill. In 2005, they were successful.

Senate Bill 1951 became law. It requires the creation of "uniform protocols for implementing screening and assessment of children prior to any admission to an in-patient hospital for psychiatric services." This does not sound so bad. But read on.

It requires the Illinois State Board of Education to "develop and implement a plan to incorporate social and emotional development standards as part of the Illinois Learning Standards for the purpose of enhancing and measuring children's school readiness and ability to achieve academic success." Right now this only applies to children who will be attending or are attending public school pre-school programs. However, this year, SB 409 is flying through the legislature to lower the school age from 7 to 5 to force more children in school and ultimately get their mental screenings.

Florida Opens a Gateway

The Florida legislature is completely Republican controlled. Yet in 2002, the liberal agenda on mental health screenings was pushed through. The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) convinced Governor Jeb Bush to veto this dangerous "Government Nanny" bill. But in 2002, it came back. We killed it in the House, but it was resurrected in the Senate at the last minute, attached to an economic investment bill of Bush's. It passed and Bush would not veto his own bill. But the homeschoolers convinced Governor Bush during the budget session to veto all funding for it! This just shows it is never over until it is over.

S.B. 1844 is now an unfunded vehicle in place just waiting for a new administration to fund it.

If it is ever funded, SB 1844 will create a new government program called Learning Gateway and will involve "developing strategies for offering hospital visits or home visits by trained staff to new mothers."

The purpose of Learning Gateway is to screen children from birth to age 9 for "biological, environmental, and behavioral risks," and "learning problems." Furthermore, Learning Gateway providers will conduct "intake with families," conduct "needs/strength-based assessments of families," and "make referrals for needed services" and "developmental monitoring."

This will all be done in collaboration with the Florida Department of Children and Family Services and numerous other big government agencies and programs.

S.B. 1844 mandates automatic referrals of high-risk newborns to the local Learning Gateway through the Office of Vital Statistics. Who determines what is considered high risk? There is no parental consent required for this referral. What happens if the parent chooses not to follow up on this referral?

Will the Florida Department of Children and Families take the child away if the parent chooses to follow his own doctor's advice instead of the government's?

It also requires that an electronic data system be developed to track children who are screened, assessed, and referred for services. Will Mom and Dad be able to remove the child from the government programs if the initial screening is done without parent's consent?

The Federal Plan to Implement Widespread Mental-Health Screenings

The Federal government has taken small steps that may eventually establish a universal mental-health screening program for all children. As initially envisioned, the program would be administered through the public school system and primary care facilities.

The New Freedom Commission on Mental Health was established by President Bush to investigate the nation's mental health service system and provide recommendations to improve the system. In 2003, the Commission's final report specifically recommended a universal mental-health screening program which would be created within the public school system.

While the White House has assured HSLDA that the President would not support this type of extensive program, Congress appropriated $20 million in 2004 to fund the Commission's recommendations. The money is in the form of "state incentive grants" and is currently available to the states with no guidelines preserving parental rights.

Illinois positioned itself to utilize these federal dollars when it enacted the Children's Mental Health Act of 2004. Illinois wishes to "ensure that all children receive periodic social and emotional developmental screens." The federal government is positioned to help Illinois have its wishes come true.

If the states implement the federal program and use the money as it was intended, homeschoolers could be subject to unwanted screenings. Without requiring parental consent, parental rights would be at stake and forced screenings would be possible.

Seeing the "writing on the wall," Representative Ron Paul (TX-16) introduced the Parental Consent Act of 2004 (H.R. 181) which requires that "no Federal funds may be used to establish or implement any universal or mandatory mental health screening program." The bill would also deny the use of Federal funds to any jurisdiction that makes child abuse charges based on a parent's refusal to allow mental-health screening. This bill would insure that parental rights would not be violated as the government attempts to monitor the mental health of children. Currently, the bill has twenty-four co-sponsors and has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Education Reform where it is adding co-sponsors and gaining support. HSLDA is working to support this effort.

The Mental Health Screening Trend Must Be Opposed

Parental rights are endangered by these mental health screening plans. Everyone needs to be watching the signs to see if your state is moving to establish these Government Nanny programs.

We have to fight to keep all children from being exposed to such arbitrary screenings. The criteria for diagnosing mental disabilities are vague and the medical community itself can't agree on proper diagnosis. We can not allow children to be labeled at such an early age because it will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

The way these "screenings" work, the whole family will have to be interviewed and screened to determine the origin and to remove the contributing factors. Families will be threatened to be turned over to social workers who could take custody of their children if they do not comply with the recommended psychiatric medication. These often over-prescribed medications can have dangerous side effects and have caused deaths. Recent alarming statistics show children and adolescents are more likely to commit suicide when prescribed antidepressants.

Medicating children for behavioral problems already is a method of social control. These mental screening efforts would only expand this danger to millions of more children.

However, it's not time to panic yet. Many "Government Nanny" type programs such as Parents as Teachers, Goals 2000, and School to Work have been defeated by homeschoolers before.

If we stay vigilant, together we can defeat these initiatives before they ever get off the ground.

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