One evening early last December, the Rhoades' 15-year-old daughter
asked if they would explain to her the meaning of
obsessive-compulsive disorder and social anxiety disorder. Miss
Rhoades then proceeded to inform her stunned parents that this was
the diagnosis she had been given at school after completing a survey
known as TeenScreen in her homeroom class.
TeenScreen is a
controversial mental health and suicide screening program,
recommended by President Bush's New Freedom Commission on Mental
Health. It was specifically promoted by name in an Illinois House
resolution passed in 2004.
TeenScreen made its debut last fall in Illinois at Brimfield High
School in the Peoria area. Although TeenScreen will not divulge the
locations of the screening sites, it boasts of activity in 43 sites
around the country, and reports indicate that several more Illinois
schools will be implementing the program next year.
Other states abandoning screening
While Illinois legislators were thoughtlessly handing over our
parental authority to the Illinois Children's Mental Health
Partnership, 10 other states -- including Florida, New York and
Pennsylvania -- introduced legislation that prohibits mental health
screening within the school system. Some states have gone so far as
to forbid any school official from even mentioning a child should be
on behavioral medication.
John Whitehead, a high-profile constitutional lawyer and
president of the Rutherford Institute, said last week in a personal
interview that he had been monitoring the mental health initiative
in Illinois, which led him to take on the Rhoades case in Indiana.
Clear constitutional violations
Whitehead believes that there are clear constitutional and
privacy violations involved. While he said there is a lot of good
case law to fight mental health screening, he considers the
opposition to be formidable foes, due to the financial backing of
pharmaceutical companies and the Bush administration's support
through the New Freedom Commission on Mental Health.
Whitehead went on to explain the complexity of the situation:
"Many of the TeenScreen people are arguing now that they can step
around these federal laws, [e.g., the Protection of Pupil Rights
Amendment, because it is part of the curriculum, so they really
don't need parental consent. That's one thing that needs to be
This excuse of being in the curriculum could be the very shelter
that the Illinois Children's Mental Health Act of 2003 provided by
mandating social and emotional development added to the Illinois
What is 'parental consent'?
As the Children's Mental Health Plan calling for screening of all
Illinois children and pregnant mothers is due on the governorís desk
June 30, the issue of parental consent must be defined to the public
and spelled out clearly within state law.
According to 2004 TeenScreen statistics, 5,862 children across
the country have been screened without written parental consent.
Few parents understand that there is a difference between passive
consent and real consent.
However, the schools and the Illinois Children's Mental Health
Partnership are well aware of it and have fought to keep it out of
the language of Illinois law and the Children's Mental Health Plan.
It is a common ploy and an effective tactic, as is evidenced in an
e-mail from Terry Smith, at Flagler Palm Coast High School in
Florida, to Jim McDonough, director of the Florida Office of Drug
Control, who also happens to be listed on the TeenScreen advisory
Smith relates to McDonough that after a meeting with the county
school district and a conference call to Columbia TeenScreen, the
school is interested in screening as many children as possible,
beginning in the ninth grade. Therefore, they have chosen the
passive consent route.
[to top of second column in this article]
Smith writes, "The passive acceptance style
was mostly discussed to increase the numbers ... [from] 50 percent
for consent to near 95 percent for passive."
Of 650 consent letters mailed, only 17 returned parent denials.
The Children's Mental Health Plan clearly states that all of the
recommendations put forth are in compliance with all state laws.
This is true. Passive consent is legal -- just ineffective in
informing and alerting parents -- and they prefer to keep it that
No one is denying that mental illness should not be ignored or
that children who need help should have it.
However, while concentrated efforts are being thrust into the
general population in fishing for unseen problems, the truly needy,
who are currently not getting the help they need, will surely
languish while resources are squandered on ineffective screening
tools such as TeenScreen.
TeenScreen does not reduce suicides
Although TeenScreen is being promoted by some as "proven"
effective, as evidenced in our House resolution, it clearly is not,
according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force report, which
states there is "no evidence that screening for suicide risk reduces
suicide attempts or mortality."
Even TeenScreen's co-director, Rob Caruano, does not make that
claim. Caruano said in the Indiana South Bend Tribune, "Teen
suicides, while tragic, are so rare that the study would have to be
impossibly huge to show a meaningful difference in mortality between
screened and unscreened students. ... You'd have to be screening
almost the whole country to reach statistical significance."
The partnership claims the proposed screening is not mandatory.
Yet, as a stated goal, the plan calls for screening as a part of
regular examinations required for school entry, and developmental
and emotional health are already embedded in our school curriculum.
Like a thief in the night, this "strategic plan" will not only
devastate parental rights in Illinois with unprecedented state
intrusion, but it will rob the truly mentally ill of scarce state
resources -- while threatening healthy children with dangerous
medications and being labeled with a diagnosis that could haunt them
for the rest of their lives.
Rhonda Robinson pens her perspective as a weekly columnist for
the Greater Illinois News Group on the current social, political and
parenting issues shaping the family, and she is a news correspondent
for the Illinois Leader.
With disarming humor and thoughtful insight, she is a popular
women's conference speaker on the art of mothering in a
Her work regularly appears in The Link, Illinois Family Institute
and Changing Worldviews.
Illinois Family Institute has a working relationship with Focus
on the Family, Alliance Defense Fund and the Family Research
Council, as well as similar state-based organizations across the
You can contact Robinson at (217) 663-0152 or
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