Children's Mental Health Screening to Include God?

Privacy advocates and religious groups are growing in their concern about how Bush's mandatory mental health screening will define religious persuasions. Will a person's religious beliefs be tested and if they conflict with acceptable answers, will those children be considered in need of mental health care? ~~ 

SPRINGFIELD - If you or your child feel sad most of the time, have trouble doing or enjoying things you or he used to do or sleep a little too much or maybe too little, you or your child may be suffering from depression.

If you or your children feel keyed up and anxious or worry constantly about everything, you each may be showing signs of anxiety.

If you or your children have ever been asked those questions, you or your child unknowingly may have been screened for mental health issues, similar to a new statewide program initiated by Illinois’ Children’s Mental Health Act of 2003.

One of the last steps in setting the mental health screening into action will take place on June 30, 2005, when Governor Rod Blagojevich receives a final plan as proposed by a group of mental health advisors called the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership (ICMHP).

According to the ICMHP, one out of ten Illinois children suffer from a mental illness “severe enough to cause some level of impairment.” But, the Partnership says, only 20 percent of those children receive the needed mental health services.

To resolve this crisis, last July the ICMHP held public hearings in population centers from downstate Marion to Chicago to gather feedback on a preliminary plan to build a “comprehensive children’s mental health system” in Illinois.

By word of mouth and through Internet loops, news of the hearings spread quickly as parents learned more about what was proposed in the ICMHP’s preliminary strategic plan.

The hearings created a stir, and concerned parents began to voice their disapproval of a plan they say has changed the state’s view of children being assumed to being mentally healthy unless otherwise indicated to a new paradigm of assuming all children are mentally unhealthy unless screening determines otherwise.

Privacy advocates and religious groups are growing in their concern about how the term “mental health” will be defined according to the proposed plan.

Will religious beliefs be tested and if they conflict with acceptable answers, will those children be considered in need of mental health care?

“Therein lies a problem,” Karen Hayes, associate director of Concerned Women for America - Illinois said last week, “Those setting this up don’t like to admit this, but in order for them to determine what ‘mental health’ is, they need to define what ‘mental illness’ is. That’s where they get into dangerous territory.”

The issue is not defining mental health, the proponents say. It is simply making sure assistance is available to those who need mental health services most.

“[Mental health] [p]rograms and services should be available and accessible to all Illinois children and their families - whether they are a new parent adjusting to the demands of parenthood, a toddler struggling to master basic developmental tasks, an adolescent who is experiencing feelings of depression, or a youth with some other mental health need,” the Children’s Mental Health Partnership wrote in its Preliminary Strategic Plan submitted to Governor Rod Blagojevich last September.

Illinois’ Children’s Mental Health Act of 2003 set into motion a plan to integrate mental health screenings for all children ages 0 through 18 and all expectant mothers under the auspices of the ICMHP and the governor.

Last session’s SB 1951, sponsored in the Senate by State Senator Maggie Crotty (D-Oak Forest) and in the House by State Reps. Julie Hamos (D-Chicago), Patti Bellock (R-Westmont) and Beth Coulson (R-Glenview), passed both state houses in 2003 with only one opposing vote.

One state legislator who co-sponsored the legislation now says the program went much further than she originally intended.

“The reason I sponsored the legislation was that I am very concerned about children who are in the Juvenile Justice system or already in the foster care system,” said Bellock. “We can’t help but wonder how these problems might have been avoided if they were detected early enough.”

The law, which focuses on early intervention and prevention of mental health problems, stipulates a final plan to be on the Governor’s desk by June 30 this year networking the state’s Office of Mental Health, Illinois State Board of Education, every Illinois school district and the Department of Public Aid.

The State Board of Education already met the law’s requirement to incorporate social and emotional development measures into the Illinois Learning Standards by December 31, 2004.

The ICHMP’s final plan will be submitted by June 30, 2005 to the Governor.

According to the state law, most funding for the plan will be obtained through federal health care programs such as Medicaid and Kidcare.

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