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Back to November Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 250 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS NOVEMBER 2006

Government Shrinks in the Nursery —
Infant and Toddler Mental Health

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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 health problems."

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 children."

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 families.

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 function.

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." (Emphasis added)

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 vulnerable citizens?

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 workforce.

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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