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Screening a child's mind

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But some activists saw the report as a veiled recommendation that could turn into a harmful policy. That interpretation became widespread. In a memo last month, the Congressional Research Service tried to clear up just what the report said.

"[T]he Commission did not recommend mandatory screening of all children to identify those at risk of mental-health problems because the research on screening for children is inadequate," wrote two CRS researchers. The article added that "school mental- health programs must provide any screening or treatment services with full attention to the confidentiality and privacy of children and families."

The commission's biggest concern was that efforts to help those with mental illness at the state and federal level were too "fragmented" across different agencies, from the Social Security Administration to Medicare and Medicaid, says Michael Hogan, who was chairman of the now- disbanded New Freedom Commission, and current director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health. That fact has been lost in the furor over screening, he says.

The commission decided that recommending universal screening would be "a little premature and probably controversial even though we thought in the long run, it probably might be the right thing to do," Mr. Hogan says.

Mental-health issues "ought to be moved into the mainstream," he continues, and schools and even preschools "ought to have access to mental-health professionals. It makes more sense to give 16-year-olds an annual checkup of their mental and emotional wellness, and ask them if they're using drugs, than it does to give otherwise healthy young people a physical. That seems to me to be relatively common sense. But we're not ready for that."

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