March 3, 2005

Mental-Health Screening

The Federal government has taken small steps that may eventually establish a universal mental-health screening program to diagnose mental disorders in children. The program, as recommended, would be administered through the public school system and primary care facilities. As the law stands now, officials are not required to gain parental consent to proceed with mental health screenings. However, though the program does not target homeschoolers, there is a potential for the erosion of parental rights which is of concern to HSLDA.

The New Freedom Commission on Mental Health was established by President Bush to investigate the nation's mental health service system and provide recommendations to improve the system. In 2003, the Commission's final report was released and it specifically recommended a universal mental-health screening program which would be created within the public school system.

While the White House has assured HSLDA that the President would not support this type of extensive program, Congress appropriated $20 million in 2004 to fund the Commission's recommendations. The money is in the form of "state incentive grants" and is currently available to the states with no guidelines preserving parental rights.

Illinois is positioned to utilize these federal dollars when it enacted the Children's Mental Health Act of 2004. Illinois wishes to "ensure that all children receive periodic social and emotional developmental screens." This Act is the first of its kind; both supporters and opponents cite it as the prototype for mental-health screening programs.

If the states implement the federal program and use the money as it was intended, homeschoolers could be subject to unwanted screenings. Without requiring parental consent, parental rights would be at stake and forced screenings would be possible.

However, Representative Ron Paul (TX-16) is working hard to ensure that this does not occur. He has introduced the Parental Consent Act of 2004 (H.R. 181) which requires that "no Federal funds may be used to establish or implement any universal or mandatory mental health screening program." The bill would also deny the use of Federal funds to any jurisdiction that makes child abuse charges based on a parent's refusal to allow mental-health screening.

Paul's Bill would insure that parental rights would not be violated as the government attempts to monitor the mental health of children. Currently, the bill has twenty-four co-sponsors and has been referred to the House Subcommittee on Education Reform where it is adding co-sponsors and gaining support.

HSLDA will be monitoring this legislation closely.