Proposed Connecticut Bill Mandates Mental Health Assessments for Homeschooled Children
(Heather Clark) A national homeschooling organization is sounding the alarm against a bill proposed in the Connecticut legislature which would require both public school and homeschooled children to undergo a behavioral health assessment at various stages of child development.
Bill 374, proposed in the General Assembly by sponsors Senator Toni Harp and Representative Toni Walker, is likely in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre, which took the lives of 20 children and 6 adults this past December. Some believe that the incident could have been better prevented should there have been sufficient mental health assistance for gunman Adam Lanza, and therefore, the women are seeking to ensure that today’s youth are screened throughout their adolescence for any concerning behavioral problems.
Harp, who serves as the chairman of the Connecticut mental health task force, recently told reporters that while she does not want children to be stigmatized over the matter, she feels that lawmakers need to see how to better care for the mental well-being of youth in order to prevent another tragedy.
“The concern we have is that increasing stigma will mitigate against treatment,” she explained. “What we are doing is looking at our own mental health delivery system to see what the gaps are … in case there was some sort of relationship [between mental illness and Adam Lanza’s actions].”
Therefore, the bill that Harp and Walker have introduced to the state legislature seeks to have all children regularly analyzed by a health care provider. It reads, “An Act Requiring Behavioral Health Assessments for Children. Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives in General Assembly convened: That section 10-206 of the general statutes be amended to require (1) each pupil enrolled in public school at grades 6, 8, 10 and 12 and each home-schooled child at ages 12, 14 and 17 to have a confidential behavioral health assessment, the results of which shall be disclosed only to the child’s parent or guardian, and (2) each health care provider performing a child’s behavioral health assessment to complete the appropriate form supplied by the State Board of Education verifying that the child has received the assessment.”
While some do not see reason for concern over the bill, others believe that the requirement would be too intrusive for families. The Homeschool Legal Defense Association recently sent out a call to action over the matter, requesting that citizens contact their representatives to urge them to strike the bill down.
“Proposed Bill 374 would essentially authorize the state to conduct regular social services investigations of homeschooling families without any basis to do so,” outlines senior counsel Dee Black. “These assessments would be conducted by an unspecified health care provider and would be conducted even though there was no indication whatsoever that these children had a behavioral problem. The bill states that the results of the assessments are to be disclosed only to the child’s parent or guardian, but that the health care provider must submit a form to the State Board of Education verifying that the child has received the assessment.”
“According to the Connecticut Behavioral Health Partnership, a state organization made up of the Department of Children and Families, Department of Social Services, Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and others, a behavioral health assessment is quite comprehensive and invasive,” he continued. “It includes ‘a review of physical and mental health, intelligence, school performance, employment, level of function in different domains including family situation and behavior in the community.’”
“This assessment would constitute an unwarranted, gross invasion of family privacy,” Black said. “This bill should be opposed.”
Other organizations such as National Home Education Legal Defense are monitoring the legislation, but are not as concerned as they state that it is too early too tell what the requirements of the bill will entail.
“NHELD does recommend that all parents should be aware, and keep track of, proposed Senate Bill 374,” stated executive director and attorney Deborah Stevenson. “[However,] we don’t know what the final language of the bill will look like, or whether it will be voted on in committee or on the floor of the House or Senate. We need to be careful in how we approach anyone about this at this time.”
“The bill does not specify anything about allowing any social services agency to become involved in your child’s healthcare. It simply states that the fact that an assessment was done will be provided to the State Department of Education,” she said. “While anything is always possible, right now it is only a proposed bill — that is, an idea that is written down.”
The bill is stated to currently be before the legislature’s Public Health Committee for consideration.