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Illinois Passes Controversial Child Screening Plan

Illinois Passes Controversial Child Screening Plan

An Illinois draft plan to screen children and pregnant women for mental illness has stirred controversy and raised questions about some elements of President Bush's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health (NFC) report. The Illinois draft screening guidelines, issued in July by the Illinois Children's Mental Health Partnership (ICMHP), were based on recommendations made in 2003 by the Bush-appointed NFC, which proposed a far-ranging reform of state mental health care systems. One of the five key recommendations in the report was:

In a transformed mental health system, the early detection of mental health problems in children and adults--through routine and comprehensive testing and screening--will be an expected and typical occurrence.

The NFC report anticipated states moving individually and in parallel with federal efforts to reform the Medicaid system and, to a lesser extent, the state grant programs under the aegis of the Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS), a part of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). A. Kathryn Power, M.Ed., director of CMHS, has been charged with writing an NFC Action Plan with implementation specifics. Publication of that plan has been repeatedly delayed.

Meanwhile, Illinois was the first state to move forward on its own, albeit only in the area of children's mental health. Passed by the state legislature with near unanimous support in August 2003 and quickly signed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich, the Illinois Children's Health Act of 2003 contained a number of provisions including the creation of the ICMHP. The ICMHP was charged with the development of 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 ICMHP's draft plan, released on July 16, caused a political eruption in the state. Its priority recommendations were that all children receive periodic social and emotional developmental screens and that all women be screened for depression during pregnancy and for up to one year postpartum.

State Sen. Chris Lauzen (R-Aurora) was quoted in the Illinois Leader as saying:

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 those voting on it.

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