Children's Mental Health task force hearings continue through Friday

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

 - by Rhonda Robinson, Central Illinois correspondent

SPRINGFIELD -- As public forums continue this week throughout the state, more concerns are emerging as parents learn of a new mental health screening plan for Illinois' children ages zero through 18 and pregnant women.

“Children’s Mental Health: An Urgent Priority for Illinois,” the 53 page report in which The Children’s Mental Health Act of 2003 is based upon details a vast new bureaucracy which stresses intervention and treatment for all Illinois children from the womb and continues throughout adolescence, at age 18.

Sighting early intervention as key to academic success and crime prevention, this new law, if enacted according to current recommendations, would also require all pregnant women to be screened prior to delivery for depression and periodically for the first six months after she gives birth.

“This is a major piece of legislation,” Mike Burke, Ounce of Prevention's director of communications told “We know that behavior is shaped in the early years, and that emotional well being is affected by complications with birth. This act forces Illinois to recognize the importance of children’s emotional well being.”

The Children’s Mental Health Act of 2003 requires the development of a state Children’s Mental Health Plan and creates a special Children’s Mental Health Fund in the State Treasury.

Screenings, testing, and treatments are to be offered in homes, pre-schools, daycare, and throughout the public school system. A child over the age of 12 will be provided two mental health sessions without parental consent.

This Act creates a “Children’s Mental Health Partnership” that reports directly to the Governor. It requires the Illinois State Board of Education to develop and implement a plan that incorporates social and emotional standards as part of the mandated Illinois Learning Standards, due on the Governors desk by December 31, 2004.

All Illinois School districts are required to develop a policy incorporating emotional and social development into the district’s educational program. This policy is to be submitted to the ISBE by August 31,2004.

The report states the policy the schools adopt should address “teaching and assessing social and emotional skills and protocols for responding to children with mental health problems that impact learning ability."

It also says that the program will monitor school systems’ collecting and reporting of information about student progress on social and emotional development and the social climate of a school, and increase the number of school-based health centers equipped to provide mental health services.

Funding to implement these policies are not outlined fully in the report.

The report acknowledges that mental health in Illinois is severely under funded, and children’s mental health can “hardly be called a system” and yet, this massive creation of a new bureaucracy which expands it’s reach to pregnant women, infants and eighteen year olds, in it’s current form, is laden with unfunded mandates for the school system and a host of other agency currently offering services to Illinois children.

The Department of Human Services estimates this act will expand the population within the system an increase of 5,000 new clients costing an estimated $10 million.

Public hearings will be in Rockford on Thursday and Chicago on Friday.

© 2004 -- all rights reserved


Related stories:

"IL launches compulsory mental health screening for children and pregnant women" on Monday, July 19, 2004


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