EDUCATION FOR A FREE NATION
105 Peavey Rd, Suite 116, Chaska, MN 55318
December 28, 2006
Shrinks in the Nursery
Infant and Toddler Mental Health
Published in the
Education Reporter, November 2006.
By Karen R. Effrem, M.D.
Did you know that there is a crisis in infant and early childhood mental
health? According to the academic elites, bureaucrats, and front groups
for the pharmaceutical industry that are promoting a cradle-to-grave
mental health screening, labeling and intervention system, mental illness
is rampant even in our youngest children.
For instance, the Florida Strategic Plan for Infant Mental Health says,
"Even before their first birthday, babies can suffer from clinical
depression, traumatic stress disorder, and a variety of other mental
A study from Yale University tells us, "Pre-K students are expelled
at a rate more than three times that of children in grades K-12,
according to a primary study by researchers at Yale on the rate of
expulsion in pre-kindergarten programs serving 3- and 4-year-olds."
Because this purported problem is so severe, these same elites have many
suggestions to deal with it.
The report of the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health
(NFC) says, "Since children develop rapidly, delivering mental
health services and supports early and swiftly is necessary to avoid
permanent consequences and to ensure that children are ready for
school." Their goal to deal with this crisis is to make sure that,
"Early Mental Health Screening, Assessment, and Referral to Services
Are Common Practice." Within that goal, the report lists the
following recommendation: "Promote the mental health of young
The NFC report recommended a model program for dealing with this infant
mental health crisis called the Nurse Family Partnership. The program is
described as follows: "A nurse visits the homes of high-risk women
when pregnancy begins and continues for the first year of the child's
life. The nurse adheres to visit-by-visit protocols to help women adopt
healthy behaviors and to responsibly care for their children." Do
Americans really want to establish government as arbiters of what is
"healthy behavior" and how mothers, even dysfunctional ones,
"responsibly care for their children"? These programs are being
pushed in Congress as not only a solution for "at risk"
families, however arbitrarily that is defined, but for all
This emphasis on "healthy social and emotional development" and
on children entering school "ready to learn" is derived from a
1994 federal law called the Goals 2000: Educate America Act. The
law mandated eight national education goals that had very little to do
with promoting academic objective knowledge, but rather had much to do
with psychosocial indoctrination. It also unconstitutionally expanded the
federal role in education that was designed to be a state and local
The first mandate on the list is: "All children will start school
ready to learn." As will be explained below, rather than dealing
with learning the alphabet, numbers, colors, and shapes, this goal deals
with forming attitudes about controversial non-academic topics, such as
gender identity and careers.
The last mandate on the list says, "Every school will promote
partnerships that will increase parental involvement and participation in
promoting the social, emotional, and academic growth of children."
This goal puts academics, supposedly the main mission of schools, below
subjective and arbitrary social and emotional growth. It also puts public
schools in charge of setting government norms for the social/emotional
status of our kids. These government norms have also been the
justification for the mental health screening of all children. It has
resulted in the promulgation from preschool to high school of nonsensical
and indoctrinating social and emotional outcomes that are placed on an
equal plane with academic standards in reading and math.
The Federal Mental Health Action Agenda (FMHAA) is the implementation
plan for the New Freedom Commission report, and it has many
recommendations and plans. For instance the Substance Abuse and Mental
Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) that is overseeing this agenda is
funding grants to develop and expand "mental health promotion and
early intervention services for infants.in mental health care settings
and other programs that serve children and adolescents . . ."
Apparently government involvement in the mental health of preschoolers as
described in the NFC report was not early enough the Federal Action
Agenda had to lower the age to infancy.
One of the grant programs being promoted by the federal SAMHSA is called
the State Early Childhood Comprehensive System. 48 states and several
territories have received federal funds to implement these grants. The
Minnesota program is described as a "federally-funded grant project
to coordinate and integrate early childhood screening systems to assure
that all children ages birth to five are screened early and
continuously for the presence of health, socioemotional or developmental
needs. Children and their families should then be linked to
mental health services, early care and education, . . . so
that all eligible children . . . enter school ready to learn."
(Emphasis added.) A mission statement from South Dakota for this type of
program said, "All children in South Dakota, are supported by the
community through a comprehensive system of care that meets their social,
emotional, physical, and spiritual needs." (Emphasis added)
Notice in the quote above that preschool education is a means of
improving the mental health of young children. The FMHAA explicitly
promotes this when it says, "HHS and ED have launched a 5-year
research effort to find the best ways to prepare preschool children for
later success in school. In the initiative's first year, eight
institutions across the country will receive $7.4 million in research
grants to test preschool curricula . . ."
As already mentioned, the outcomes for these preschool curricula have
little or nothing to do with academic improvement. Instead, both the
national Head Start and many identical state preschool outcomes deal with
such topics as "gender identity," "jobs," "the
environment," and acceptance of various differences, such as
"genders, race, special needs, culture, language, and family
structure." Aside from being controversial and outside the accepted
role of government, inculcating these standards will do absolutely
nothing to close the achievement gap between poor "at risk"
children and middle-class children or promote academic achievement.
In fact, a 2005 study by researchers at the University of California at
Berkeley said, "Attendance in preschool centers, even for short
periods of time each week, hinders the rate at which young children
develop social skills and display the motivation to engage classroom
tasks, as reported by their kindergarten teachers." So, in fact,
preschool does not improve children's social interaction and development;
they harm them. The proposed government solution is creating the very
crisis it purports to solve.
Sadly, the other major and even more dangerous way for intervening in the
mental health of young children is using powerful psychiatric drugs as a
chemical straitjacket. A 2000 study published in the Journal of the
American Medical Association revealed a 300% increase in the use of these
drugs in 2-to-4-year-old children between 1991 and 1995. And key child
psychiatric opinion leader Dr. David Willis said,
"Psychopharmacology is on the horizon as preventive therapy for
children with genetic susceptibility to mental health problems."
Yet, the science behind the diagnostic criteria, the screening
instruments, and the treatments, whether drug or educational and social
interventions, is appallingly bad. Dr. Benedetto Vitiello, chief of child
and adolescent psychiatry at the National Institutes of Health
acknowledged the "diagnostic uncertainty surrounding most
manifestations of psychopathology in young children." The technical
information for one of the most commonly used screening instruments for
young children admits that it is wrong 73% of the time. There are no
studies showing long-term safety and effectiveness or effect on the
developing brains and bodies of any psychiatric drug in children.
Yet, two of the three classes of these drugs are under the FDA's most
stringent warnings short of bans, called Black Box Warnings, for suicide,
violence, and increased death rates. They also interfere with learning,
causing violence, neurological problems, obesity, diabetes, and heart
attacks. The vast majority are not FDA approved for use in children, but
children are put on them by the millions, most often as members of a
captive clientele, such as the welfare, foster care or juvenile justice
systems. They are often medicated in unstudied, unapproved combinations.
Dr. Vitiello also said, "Little research has been conducted to study
the effectiveness of psychosocial interventions in young children, and
the long-term risk-benefit ratio of psychosocial and pharmacologic
treatments is basically unknown."
What can be done to stop this horrific, unscientific, ineffective, and
dangerous government invasion into the minds and values of our most
We must refuse to submit our children to any of these unscientific
screenings and surveys, no matter where or by whom they are proposed. We
must demand that the federal government quit funding the programs that
carry out this invasion of parental authority and family autonomy. We
must demand better information regarding the dangers and side effects of
these drugs. Instead of drugging, we must demand the promotion of strong
two-parent families and tax policies that do not force mothers into the
Most importantly, we must view our children, and insist that government
mental health industry also view them, as unique individuals
"endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights," not
sick people with broken brains that may only be fixed by a toxic drug or
government program. (See
www.edwatch.org for more
information and specifics on how to fight this system in your own state)
Dr. Karen Effrem is the mother of three children, a pediatrician and
policy analyst who serves on the boards of EdWatch, the Alliance for
Human Research Protection, and the National Physicians Center.
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