Inside Illinois
IL Children's Mental Health Plan gives legislators headache

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

By The Leader-Springfield Bureau

SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois recently gained national and international attention as the first state to put into law a template for mental health screening that could become a national model for government mandated “evidence-based practices screening" for emotional and social disorders for the state’s children.

But now, some state legislators are expressing concern that those putting the law into practice are either over-reaching its original intent, or the language of the law is problematic.

Last August, Governor Rod Blagojevich signed the Illinois Children’s Health Act of 2003. It stated in part:

The State of Illinois shall develop a Children’s Mental Health Plan containing short-term and long-term recommendations to provide comprehensive, coordinated mental health prevention, early intervention, and treatment services for children from birth through age 18.

The Act stipulated the creation of the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership, which is to submit a preliminary plan of action to the Governor

on September 30. The Partnership reports directly to the governor.

Last month, the Partnership held a series of public hearings around the state to unveil its plan. Recommendations included screening all pregnant women for depression, with in-home visit follow-up.

It is the Partnership’s recommendations that began raising red flags.

State Rep. Patti Bellock (R-Wheaton), a co-sponsor of the original legislation, spelled out some concerns with the plan to in a prepared statement:

After reviewing the Children's Mental Health Task Force recommendations from the preliminary report, I have serious reservations about some of the ways the partnership is translating the intent of the bill. There is considerable misunderstanding about the intent….

I have strong objections to some of the recommendations:

1. I do not agree that all women should be screened for depression during pregnancy and following the birth of a child up to one year postpartum. I also do not agree with extending the Medicaid coverage beyond the 60 days postpartum. There is no mention of pregnant women in SB 1951 at all.

2. I do not agree that all children birth to age five receive periodic developmental screens. I also do not agree with a data reporting state system to track who is screened. This is a violation of privacy.

3. I do not agree with requiring social-emotional development screens with all mandated school exams (K, 4th, and 9th) or a major transition time.

4. I do not agree with report cards on children's social-emotional development, either.

State Sen. Chris Lauzen (R-Aurora), who along with all 59 members of the Illinois Senate voted for the final version of the bill, said today, “If this negative interpretation of the Act is accurate, it is personally discouraging to me that this bill could have gone through the hearing process with everybody voting it forward, and none of the true implications of what this bill was all about were understood by many of voting on it.”

Lauzen added, “I believe that the last people who should be defining what is normal and abnormal are Springfield politicians, including myself!”

Additional concerns about the Children’s Mental Health Plan involve potential drug company involvement.

"The Children's Mental Health Act 2003 is the tip of an insidious iceberg,” said Allen Jones, a former investigator in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General and the Bureau of Special Investigations.

Jones is now a federal whistleblower who monitors mental health initiatives throughout the country.

“The pharmaceutical industry is gaining back door access to all of our children by compromising key decision makers and by gaining rubber stamped endorsements of groups like the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership," said Jones.

The Plan was based upon the report, “Children’s Mental Health: An Urgent Priority for Illinois” by the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Task Force, a group sponsored by Ounce of Prevention and funded by The Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, the charitable arm of Johnson & Johnson and Janssen

Pharmaceutica. The Irving B. Harris Foundation is also credited with start up contributions.

This new initiative if enacted, would make Illinois the first state to ratify policies that align systems of care with President Bush’s New Freedom Report.

The New Freedom Report recommends universal mental health screening of all United States citizens, with an emphasis on school children.

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