By LESLIE WOLFGANG | COMMENTARY
The Hartford Courant
8:20 PM EST, March 8, 2013
Among the stories of vigils and bravery from Sandy Hook, one painful reflection was "I Am Adam Lanza's Mother." Written by Liza Long, it details a mother's unsuccessful attempt to obtain mental health services for her verbally abusive and mentally unbalanced son.
Between threats of violence against her family, visits from police and temporary treatments in nearby hospitals, Long lives in fear because the help she desperately needs for her son is unavailable except to criminals. Not only does she tremble for herself and family, she is gravely concerned for the many other mothers who recognize their children need mental health services but are unable to get them, and she fears for us.
The Connecticut Office of the Healthcare Advocate recently published "Findings and Recommendations: Access to Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services." Among the recommendations, the advocate suggests that Connecticut adopt a vision that "integrates and coordinates access to effective, timely, high quality and affordable mental health and substance use prevention and treatment services." A noble charge that should lend some comfort to parents and advocates like Ms. Long, who know their children need help, but cannot locate, manage or access state services on their own.
The advocate also reports that although schools have already been busy "identifying mental health issues for children," the state lacks adequate resources to treat them. There is a dearth of available "beds" for children, a "significant lack of intermediate and long-term in-patient care facilities," "limited access to behavioral health services (especially … residential youth services)," inadequate "community based services" and a "lack of child and adolescent psychiatrists," and many more scarce and underfunded public services for juveniles.
The at-risk children are known by their teachers, doctors and parents. What is needed are services and mental health professionals available to treat them.
The help that Connecticut parents need is costly and complex. It will require great commitments of financial resources and years of planning. The services are a sacrifice many public policy officials, advocates, legislators and Connecticut citizens, including me, are willing and happy to make.
I find myself at odds and perplexed, however, by a proposed bill now before the Public Health Committee. If passed, the bill would require every public and home-schooled child of certain ages and grades to receive a "behavioral health assessment" in order to … well, there is no stated purpose.
With no obvious clamor by parents or teachers for such assessments and no general consensus among the psychiatric class that testing of the general population is necessary, I and other parents question the necessity of such mandatory mental assessments.
Behavioral tests are costly, and they can be inconclusive and erroneous. The required administration and government tracking of such tests would increase their expense. As gathered from the report, identifying troubled children is not the problem. Helping them get access to trained professionals is the issue. How many precious professional hours will be wasted needlessly testing healthy children?
Setting aside all the obvious problems of authority, administration, costs, registration, compliance and enforcement, my children, though young, should not also be subject to unwanted government mental health screening without due process. They are citizens too, and deserve all the care their parents and teachers know they need.
Government-mandated behavioral health assessments are a costly, unnecessary and a largely unwanted intrusion into the private lives of families across our state. The Public Health Committee and the General Assembly would better serve the memory of Newtown's lost children by devoting scarce resources toward treatment instead of testing.
Leslie Wolfgang of Waterbury is a lawyer and a member of the Family Institute of Connecticut.
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