September 21, 2010

Earlier mental-health tests for kids sought

By SUSAN M. COVER MaineToday Media State House Writer

AUGUSTA — More Maine children should be screened before they enter school to determine whether they need help with mental or behavioral problems, according to a report released Monday.

"We still have a very significant number of children we are not finding early enough," said Dean Crocker, president of the Maine Children's Alliance, which held a news conference at the State House in Augusta.

The alliance's report cites data that 78 percent of Maine parents said their children were not screened for developmental or behavioral problems. That meant 812 children entering kindergarten last year needed additional help, the report says.

"They had substantial disability," Crocker said. "Substantial enough to require special education."

not identifying those children by age 2, the state spends more money to try to help them later in life, he said.

The report, "Children's Mental Health: 2010," also calls for better evaluation of programs designed to help children with mental health problems.

Crocker said the state and schools must be able to track children by Social Security number – which has drawn fire from privacy advocates – to ensure that they are getting the help they need.

The report suggests indicators that should be tracked over time to make sure programs are working.

"Maine needs a common set of indicators of children's mental health so we can know what we do well and where we may need to do things better," said Barbara Leonard, vice president for programs for the Maine Health Access Foundation, which funded the report.

Maine Health and Human Services Commissioner Brenda Harvey and first lady Karen Baldacci – who has worked on children's issues for the past seven years – also spoke at Monday's news conference.

Baldacci said pre-kindergarten programs are expanding across the state, and cited the new Educare facility in Waterville as an example of expanded service.

"Not only will the center serve the needs of more than 200 pre-kindergarten children in Waterville, it will be a magnet for research and assessment of the many different approaches in this challenging new field we call early childhood," she said.

 

MaineToday Media State House Reporter Susan Cover can be contacted at 620-7015 or at: scover@centralmaine.com

 

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