IL launches compulsory mental health screening for children and pregnant women
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IL launches compulsory mental health screening for children and pregnant women

July 19, 2004/The Leader-Chicago Bureau

CHICAGO -- This week, a series of public forums on a program requiring all pregnant women and children through age 18 years to be tested for mental health needs is being held this week in five different locations statewide.

One group of parents learned about the state's plans to proceed with this program and on Monday issued an alarm asking for parents and citizens concerned about the new program to voice their opinions at the forums.

"We're moving toward social training over academic training with this program," Larry Trainor , a Mt. Prospect parent of four children and a contact for Citizens Commission on Human Rights , based in Los Angeles, said today.

"Since psychiatric involvement in education, SAT scores have gone down for the past few decades. Evaluating mental conditions is not based on scientific evidence, it's subjective," he said.

The $10 million plan for the setup of the Children's Mental Health Act of 2003 is being considered at this week's public forums starting Monday, July 18 in Champaign.

Signed into law, the bill passed the Illinois General Assembly last spring, sponsored in the House by State Representatives Julie Hamos (D-Evanston) and Patricia Bellock (R-Westmont) . State Senator Maggie Crotty (D-Oak Forest) and Susan Garrett (D-Highwood) shepherded the legislation through the Senate.

The legislation passed the House with a 107 to 5 vote, and the Senate unanimously.

"What if they find a student has a math disorder, a reading disorder. Would that be a mental health disorder, one that would cause the parents to put their children with a drug for a condition they may or may not have?" Trainor asked.

The mental health program will develop a mental health system for "all children ages 0-18 years," provide for screening to "ensure appropriate and culturally relevant assessment of young children's social and emotional development with the use of standardized tools."

Also, all pregnant women will be screened for depression and thereafter following her baby's birth, up to one year. Follow-up treatment services will also be provided.

Trainor said that he is trying to get parents and citizens out to voice their opinion about the new program.

Apparently, children's mental health will be assessed along with their academic standards in the new proposed testing. The Illinois State Board of Education has been given the responsibility to develop the appropriate tests, according to last year's legislation.

The Task Force hosting the public forums this week are to send a recommendation to Governor Blagojevich by the end of the summer, according to the Act (HB 2900).

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