Sunday, June 19, 2005

Now Screening

Six counties around Waco, Texas are implementing a new mental health screening system:
The program is part of a statewide effort to ensure mentally ill people who end up behind bars receive appropriate treatment. That could entail anything from their receiving medication to making sure their mental illness is considered as a factor in prosecution.

The system is referred to as the CARE match program. CARE is the acronym the state uses for its Client Assignment & Registration System, which tracks people's involvement with the public mental health system.

CARE has been around for decades. What's new is that regional mental health centers are beginning to cross-reference the database with lists of people booked into jail. The idea is to take some of the guesswork out of identifying inmates with special needs.

In itself, not something that particularly raises an eyebrow. But then you read something like this:
A universal screening program that would identify children with behavioral disorders before age 5 is being prepared in the county as a way to head off severe mental health problems among school-aged children.

Nothing else has worked, said Kent Paxton, an official with San Bernardino County's Children's Network, an agency that helps at-risk youngsters.

Both of these initiatives could potentially help at-risk individuals receive mental health services sooner and more efficiently. But they could also lead to people being labeled and stigmatized--in the case of San Bernadino, at an age far too young to escape.

And I wonder about the kind of information being collected on people. Here in Lancaster, there's a computer system in place that allows the local homeless shelters to track individuals--whether or not they've been kicked out of another shelter in the past few days, what kinds of services they've been receiving through county-funded programs--and it's only a short step from there to including Mental Health/Mental Retardation data, or arrest warrants, for that matter.

And yeah, you've got to worry that what's driving these things is not concern for those in need of services, but money.

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