GUEST OPINION: Maybe legislators should be mentally evaluated, too

http://www.illinoisleader.com/opinion/opinionview.asp?c=17908

GUEST OPINION: Maybe legislators should be mentally evaluated, too

Friday, July 23, 2004

– by Karen Hayes, associate director of Concerned Women for America-Illinois

If Illinois’ Children’s Mental Health Partnership Preliminary Plan goes into effect as planned next year, standardized academic tests will include mental health evaluation.

[On Friday, a task force assigned to hear public opinion on Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership Preliminary Plan will conclude its public opinion period. Having held forums throughout the state this week, the final hearing is to be held Friday in Chicago.]

OPINION — Until recently, the question of where responsibility lies for raising children has been with parents and, with few exceptions, beyond the parameters of state authority. The United States Supreme Court has clearly upheld parents’ rights to direct the health, education and welfare of their children.

Government assistance in the form of various social services has been offered on a voluntary basis to families in need over the years. This assistance has been heavily funded by taxpayers and was intended to supplement religious and other private institutional help available to needy families.

Sometimes it works; often it doesn’t.

The draft government plan before us today, however, goes far beyond any previous statutory role we have seen to date. Proposing that state government set mental health competency standards for all Illinois pregnant women and children to age 18 stuns human sensibilities.

Many of us well remember the public outcry and rejection of well-intentioned, but misguided federal government plans for social restructuring such as Goals 2000, school-to-work and universal health care.

Now we are being asked to go from outcome based education to outcome based mental health.

We are here reviewing one of the largest recent attempts by the state to subvert, devalue and undermine parental authority in Illinois. "Subvert" sounds harsh, and we recognize that many hours have been spent by many well-meaning people to draft this 26 page plan. No disrespect is meant, but our concerns must be presented.

These concerns include, but are not limited to:

1) This plan will enormously expand state government. From both social and fiscal points of view, this is a serious concern. Our government bureaucracies continue to struggle with the job of tending to the social needs of needy Illinois families, and are constantly challenged in their task of trying to educate our children in basic academics. How is it that these same bureaucracies can now be asked to take on the additional role of being the mental health evaluator and caretaker of all pregnant women and children in Illinois?

2) This plan will place another heavy burden on the backs of taxpayers since the state cannot afford to implement it. At a time when budget concerns are on the front pages of most Illinois newspapers, we are being asked to give input to one of the costliest expansions of government and bureaucracy we have seen in recent years.

3) This proposed plan is rife with terms that beg definition. Whose will prevail? This plan is 26 pages of vague and subjective rhetoric that is the groundwork for citizen indoctrination by more out of control government bureaucracy while creating a special interest group bonanza.

4) There is no accountability attached to this plan whatsoever. Simply put, since social and emotional health is subjective in nature, it is impossible to judge the social and emotional health of the plan itself. We will not know in ten years whether or not our children have been helped or harmed by such an overreaching state mental health intervention system.

5) This mandatory program challenges the U.S. Supreme Court’s protection of parental authority by usurping parental determinations of their own children’s health, welfare and education.

6) The plan to assess the mental health of all school-aged children through the Illinois State Board of Education is foolhardy at best, and outrageous beyond that.

7) The recommendation that the state "ensure that all Illinois school districts develop a policy for incorporating social and emotional development into the district’s education program" is unworkable and inappropriate.

8) Taxpayers generally do not want the government to spend their hard-earned dollars on a public relations campaign to convince them to spend more money on government bureaucracy.

9) Expanding the number of Medicaid/KidCare application agents was of special interest to those of us who reviewed this draft document in light of the Operation Push scandal a few years ago. Operation Push reportedly was paid by the state with taxpayer money and exorbitant fees to go find children to enroll.

10) Recommending the creation of "incentives that encourage local taxation" is another recommendation that certainly deserves scrutiny.

11) This proposal calls for collection of mental health data of women and children, together with bureaucratic linkage of this information.

12) The recommendation to "explore strategies for maximizing the purchase of psychotropic drugs¾at discounted prices" seems to give us an incredible look at where this task force thinks Illinois children are headed at a bargain rate.

In summary, it is neither beneficial to children, nor to taxpayers, to ask government bureaucracies to set competency standards for mental health. With some amount of lightheartedness, may I propose that the mental health of the perpetrators of this concept be evaluated?

[Karen Hayes is Illinois’ associate director of Concerned Women for America (CWA), the nation’s largest public policy women’s organization.]