"Issues and Action in Education"

US House Democrats Work to Mentally Screen Babies & Toddlers
Nanny State Bills Expand Government Control Over Families

By Dr. Karen Effrem

EdWatch a nonprofit organization.

EdWatch Index

July 20, 2008


Two bills which recently passed the U.S. House Education and Labor Committee and are headed for floor debate clearly illustrate the insatiable appetite that the radicals in charge of Congress have for control over the hearts and minds of our nation's youngest children. HR 3289, the Providing Resources Early for Kids Act of 2008 (Replaced by new PRE-K Act: 2205), puts the federal government in charge of what children will learn in preschool programs. HR 2343 (new version: HR 2205: , the Education Begins at Home Act, sets up invasive home visiting programs.
These bills put the government in control as both parent and educator for children from birth to age 5.  Both focus on poor families who have the least wherewithal to resist this government intrusion, but they also extend to military families.  The home visiting bill calls for developmental screening, which includes mental screening, and the Pre-K Act promotes mental screening of all the children and their families in these programs.  And of course, parental consent, choice, and control are never mentioned for any aspect of these bills.
The Pre-K Act and its focus on the mental screening of young children is ironic from at least two standpoints.   First, despite claims of its proponents, early childhood programs are not effective and several studies have shown evidence of academic and or emotional harm. For instance, illiteracy rates have actually increased in New Jersey where preschool for poor children was court ordered.  And, data from several national studies and surveys performed by the federal government have shown very significant increases in defiant, disobedient, and aggressive behavior, as well as impaired social skills in children who are attend preschool and child care compared to children raised at home
So, it appears that rather than improving academic and social skills, preschool programs are actually creating the problems they purport to be fixing.  These programs don't help children, but instead create permanent employment for mental health professionals and increased profits for the pharmaceutical industry for the myriad harmful and ineffective psychotropic drugs that are being prescribed to children at alarmingly younger ages. 
Now, as is happening in Minnesota and states around the nation, these subjective screening results are going into children's records, falsely labeling them as academically, socially, or mentally defective even before they begin their academic careers. This has the potential of affecting college, military service and employment and expanding the rolls of the overburdened special education system and government control in the schools.
The second irony is that while Congress is promoting increased mental screening of young children, at least one member of New Freedom Commission, the group that first started publicly promoting the unscientific and dangerous idea of mentally screening young children, is having second thoughts.  Dr. Daniel Fisher stated in a letter to the Boston Globe dated 10/3/07:

"However, screening Medicaid-covered children for mental illness is not the answer. In fact, this approach has been rejected by Congress. A superficial screening by overworked pediatricians would likely result in many false positives with devastating consequences for the children and their families. These quick-fix screening tests invariably end up with quick fixes of kids by labeling them and placing them on medication, without a comprehensive psychosocial evaluation and assistance to the children and their interpersonal environment. As a psychiatrist who has evaluated children in schools, I know that myriad factors can cause what appear to be symptoms of mental illness."  

Dr. Fisher is totally correct about the high number of false positives in mental screening tests.  One commonly used screening instrument has a 73% false positive rating, meaning that for every 27 children supposedly correctly identified as having an emotional problem on this screening test that follow admittedly "subjective" criteria that are "value judgments based on culture" according to the Surgeon General, 73 other families are falsely told that something is wrong with their child and referred for further evaluation and treatment which more and more commonly involves ineffective and sometimes lethally dangerous drugs.
It is too bad that members of the new Freedom Commission are not seeing the dangers and problems of home visiting programs they promoted in their report and that are laid out in the Education Begins at Home Act.  National studies in 1999, 2004, and 2005 showed that home visiting programs did nothing to decrease child abuse rates.   

The 1999 study had services costing up to $47,000 per family in 1999 dollars and doing nothing to improve the cognitive development of the children.  Studies of the model home visiting program touted in the New Freedom Commission report, the Nurse Family Partnership, while showing some improvement in maternal behavior towards their babies, actually showed no improvement in any of the following parameters: 

In addition, concerns have been raised about all of the following: 

For a detailed discussion of the many problems with home visiting programs, please see Dr. Karen Effrem's written testimony to Congress about this bill.
Finally, this bill also gives grants to "train" (i.e. indoctrinate) new parents in the hospital with the government's view of proper parenting. These includes getting babies into government early childhood programs as soon as possible. The attitudes, values, and beliefs of the children can then be shaped by the government's view of issues such as feminism, gender and gender identity, multiculturalism, environmentalism and careers and as discussed above, may actually lead to emotional and academic problems.
Parents, even low-income parents, and certainly not our military families, do not need the government to visit their homes to tell them how to raise their children or to tell them what their children should be taught before entering kindergarten.  Government should limit itself to promoting two parent families which is the greatest, most effective mental health and social program available. Taxing families less would allow families to afford to have one parent at home to raise the children. Increasing the domestic supplies of oil would keep food and fuel affordable for families.   

HR 3289 and HR 2343 are two examples among many as to why congressional approval ratings have dropped to single digits in the last two years.      

About the author: Dr. Karen Effrem,  is a pediatrician, researcher, and conference speaker. Dr. Effrem's medical degree is from Johns Hopkins University and her pediatric training from the University of Minnesota. She has provided testimony for Congress, as well as in-depth analysis of numerous pieces of major federal education, health, and early childhood legislation for congressional staff and many organizations. Dr. Effrem serves on the boards of four national organizations: EdWatch, the Alliance for Human Research Protection, ICSPP, and the National Physicians Center.

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