Sunday, February 3, 2013
LB556 - Further explanation of mandatory mental health screenings
On January 30, I had a lengthy conversation with Amy Williams, legislative aide to Sen. Amanda McGill. This conversation was helpful in understanding the intent of this legislation, which I personally believe is good intent at its heart, i.e., an attempt to help Nebraska children access mental health services. However, good intent can have negative outcomes and that is what I fear with this bill. Also, help isn’t help unless people want it; offering mental health services would be helpful, forcing those services under threat of law is exactly the opposite of help and one more step towards taking parents out of the equation in matters regarding the care of their children.
Upon my first reading of the bill, I was under the impression that telehealth services in the schools and the mandatory screening were connected. They are not; they are two separate issues and I will address them separately. For the purposes of this post, I am focusing on the mandatory mental health screening aspect of LB556.
I am extremely concerned by the mandate that parents must have their kindergartners, seventh graders and ninth graders screened for mental and behavioral problems. LB556 as currently written allows no discretion by parents to make the decision whether their child receives a mental health evaluation. The reasons a parent might not want this evaluation done are numerous: The child may already be receiving mental health services, the parents may have religious objections, etc. The reasons don’t matter and quite frankly, they are none of the legislature’s or the school’s business. Parents need an option to refuse this screening, just as they have an option to refuse vaccinations.
By option, I do not mean an opt out, I mean an opt in. Let me explain the difference: An opt out situation means the screening will be done unless the parent proactively tells the doctor that they are declining it. That would require every Nebraska parent to know that this screening is being done and to know that they have an option to say no. That isn’t good enough; my guess would be that most parents would have no idea what was happening until it was over and the results of the screening were placed in their child’s permanent medical record. What we want is an opt in. In this case, the doctor can tell the parent that a mental health screening is available as part of the physical and that the cost is covered as preventative care. The parent would have an opportunity to ask questions about what the screening entails, consider the interests of their child, and then choose how they would like to proceed with no repercussions for their choice. After all, this is their child and they are the only ones in a position, after consulting with the child’s doctor, to make an appropriate decision on this matter.
I was initially confused when Ms. Williams said that the mental health screening mandate has nothing to do with entry into school. Upon further discussion, she clarified that what she meant was the result of the mental health screening has nothing to do with entry into school. The reality is that if a parent chooses not to subject their child to this mental health screening, under this legislation as currently written, their child will be refused entry into public school. This is wrong on so many levels.
The public schools are supposed to exist as a service to Nebraska’s children. The schools are supported by our tax dollars and school employees have a paycheck because of us. I am increasingly alarmed and disheartened by the way the public schools are being used as a way to force parents and children into compliance with the latest “cause” of the legislature. The 2010 truancy law fiasco is a prime example of this, as well as the mental health screening mandate in LB 556.
I will address possible unintended consequences of this mandate in another post. For now I will leave it at this: Without an amendment to LB556 allowing parents to opt in to the mental health screening requirement with no repercussions for their choice, the NFF will continue to vigorously oppose this legislation. The NFF also opposes a third required physical at ninth grade. We believe parents are perfectly capable of taking their children to the doctor as necessary and we do not need strangers to dictate when.
The good news is that it appears Senator McGill is considering our concerns and is open to amending the bill as requested. We do not have a commitment that she will do so, however, so please continue expressing your wishes to her via letters, e-mails and phone calls.
Posted by Brenda Vosik at Sunday, February 03, 2013