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February 13, 2007

Infant Mental Screening in Minnesota

        HF 169, being heard this morning in the Minnesota House E-12 Education Committee, would establish an appointed board to design and recommend the components of a statewide comprehensive early childhood program that include a federally funded program involving the mental screening of all children, birth through age 5. The program, State Early Childhood Comprehensive System (SECCS), (or MECCS in Minnesota) was described in an EdWatch broadcast e-mail of Nov 23, 2005, "Sounding the alarm: Infant mental health" which included the above graphic. 

        The EdWatch alert began with these words:
"The above shocking graphic is from a federally funded coalition of academic institutions centered at UCLA promoting early childhood mental health. It should remove any remaining shred of doubt that the federal government is moving to implement a universal system of mental health screening, intervention, and monitoring, beginning with our very youngest children. This program is called the State Early Childhood Comprehensive System (SECCS), administered by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau (MCHB) and the Administration for Children and Families (ACF). The paper containing the graphic is all about infant mental health, as well as the integration of mental health into early childhood programs."
        Plans for infant mental screening have been part of a broad public-private plan, called, " Road Map for Mental Health System Reform" published by the Citizens' League. On page 165, the "Road Map" states:
MECCSS is 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."  (Emphasis added). ["socioemotional" is used interchangeably for "mental health."]
        All the elements of the federal SECCS system are included in HF 169, authored by Rep. Nora Slawik (DFL-Maplewood).

        The five core components of the SECCS program are: Access to Health Care and Medical Homes, Social-Emotional Development and Mental Health, Early Care and Education Services, Parenting Education,and Family Support Services. Clearly "behavioral health" is the new term for socioemotional or mental health. It requires screening and treatment. The SECCS program is described this way in the federal "Mental Health Action Plan":
"State Maternal and Child Health Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems Grants will bring in other Federal partners to plan for and develop statewide systems of care to support the healthy social and emotional development of children. In particular, grants support the development of a State plan that addresses access to health insurance and regular primary care services, mental health and social-emotional development interventions, early child care and educational supports, and parent education and family support."
         Notice that screening is the very first service listed in the graphic to promote infant mental health under universal/preventive services. The number one policy recommendation in this document is to "Integrate Infant Mental Health into all child and family service systems."

Our concerns about socioemotional/mental health or "behavioral health":
1) Lack of science behind screening and diagnostic criteria - Even the National Center for Infant and Early Childhood Health Policy, the organization that is being funded by SECCS to research and implement this program admitted in a 2005 paper that: 2)  Lack of evidence of effectiveness - Dr. Benedetto Vitiello, chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at the National Institutes of Mental Health admit respectively: 3)  Over-identification of poor and minorities for emotional disorders and mental retardation - The President's Commission on Special Education and the National Academy of Sciences have both pointed this out.  It seems a great and unnecessary burden on already overburdened special education resources to begin screening and labeling children at such a young age when neither the criteria nor the resources are scientifically valid.

4) Overuse of psychiatric medication in young children - Vanderbilt University released a study in 2006 showing that 2.5 million children in the US are on antipsychotic medications, the youngest being 18 months old.  A review of reported side effects of these very potent drugs found 45 deaths in children, the youngest being 4 years old. The FDA admitted that number probably represented only 1-10% of the total. Other research has shown that poor children on Medicaid are more likely to receive these stronger, more portent drugs than are children with private insurance.

 5) Autism is the biggest reason for the psychiatric screening of young children and nothing is being done to deal with the major cause of autism that is due to the needless exposure of infants to the potent neurotoxin mercury via childhood vaccines.  The legislature has wisely banned mercury thermometers and drastically reduced mercury emissions by industry.  It is a major environmental hazard that causes schools to be shut down as happened just recently.  Why this state then still allows mercury to still be injected into the developing minds and bodies of innocent infants is completely beyond comprehension.  

6) Minnesota will be taking on more federal mandates and federal control for an issue that is on very shaky medical, scientific and academic ground.

7) Finally, even if one would be nave enough to think that infant or early childhood psychiatric screening or intervention would have any medical or scientific merit, it is not the place of government to be involved in the thoughts or emotions of its citizens, especially ones this young.  Hundreds of years of history and tradition and settled case law put the raising, education, and medical care of children, especially young children, rightly in the hands of parents and families.  Government has no authority or even compelling interest in setting up a system of psychiatric screening and intervention for all children just because there are problems in some.

105 Peavey Rd, Suite 116, Chaska, MN 55318
952-361-4931 www.edwatch.org - edwatch@lakes.com

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