Every parent wants a healthy child, right? Too often, though, people neglect to consider just how much the events of childhood can leave a lasting impact on a child.
For example, we have only very recently started to understand just how much mental illness is impacting the current younger generations, and recent conversations in the gun control debates have drawn new attention to the high number of young people living with mental health issues.
New laws are being designed to give young people the best chance of overcoming some of the common threats to their mental health and stability so that they can live more productive and happy lives. Let's take a look at a few of the bills that are currently in the works.
Suicide Prevention — Indiana
This bill, Indiana’s SB0230, establishes that the division of Mental Health and Addiction is responsible for suicide prevention. It creates a mandate for the state to educate healthcare workers about how to cope with the risk of suicide through research-based training. Teachers are included in those who will be trained.
The hope is that all healthcare workers, and specifically teachers will better be equipped to recognize the signs of a suicidal child. The bill has passed and is currently waiting to be signed.
Foster Child Psych Drugs — Illinois
Illinois bill HB0281 applies to medicine to treat mental conditions. Psychotropic drugs have evolved a great deal since the early days of Prozac and Xanax, but it is still important to consider whether they are necessary in treating children. You may recall the way that drugs like Ritalin have been over-prescribed to young people.
The bill is in committee and has not yet been the subject of a vote at the time of writing.
For foster children, those living in group homes, in a juvenile facility or in custody of the state, this bill defines a set of conditions that must be met for the use of psychotropic drugs to be authorized. They may not be used as punishment for bad behavior, and guardian families are required to undertake specific reporting practices if caring for a child who uses psychotropic medication.
Protecting Sexual Abuse Victims — Pennsylvania
Already in place in the Pennsylvania Commonwealth, this bill named HB631 sets forth a number of provisions designed to keep children safer from registered sex offenders. It requires registered sex offenders who max out their sentences to serve three years of probation after leaving incarceration.
Additionally, it makes the act of lying to a police officer about the location of a known sex offender or to house such a person against the conditions of their release illegal. Children cannot legally be left in the care of a registered offender, and intimidating victims of sexual assault is made illegal. The multi-faceted bill tries to be thorough in protecting children and keeping offenders under control.
No More Fees for Juvenile Hall — California
California’s SB190 lifts the requirement for families of children with mental health issues to pay administrative fees if their child is placed on probation, housed in juvenile facilities, or on home detention. A large contingent of these families are low-income or minority families, so with this bill, the state attempts to avoid crippling financial impacts if their child is sentenced. This bill is already in place.
Child Neglect — Utah
Just coming out of committee and waiting to be voted on at the time of writing, Utah's SB0065 gives some clarification to an existing Utah statute which mandates that nurses and other medical professionals who believe that a child has been subject to neglect or abuse or is in conditions that will reasonably result in neglect or abuse that must be reported to the division or local law enforcement.
Language always has the potential to be a challenge with laws, so this amendment adds information to the definition of “neglect.” It stipulates that clergy members are mandatory reporters in addition to medical professionals and allows children who are being interviewed about sexual abuse to have a support person with them—that person cannot be suspect of being involved in the abuse.
Many of these laws seem fairly commonsense -- one would think they should be effective everywhere. And, indeed, they should be. However, it's important to at least recognize the states that are finally taking it on themselves to better protect our children.
Mental illness has been in the news a lot recently, mostly due to its clear correlation with acts of violence. Mental illnesses often develop as a result of childhood trauma, so all of these bills have the potential to ultimately impact some young person somewhere.
The concept of mental illness still has a variety of negative stigmas and falsehoods wrapped around it, and until we start recognizing that, we are going to continue to face catastrophes as a result of mental illnesses that are left unchecked or are not properly cared for.
We do need better gun control laws, but we also need to be paying attention to the welfare of the young people who may have sought out those weapons. Expect to see more bills like these -- aimed at improving the mental stability of young people -- on the table in coming years.
We have seen the impact that mental illness, and adversity combined with mental illness, can have on a child’s life. Eventually, when those children grow into adults, they are going to comprise the primary voting and governing body of society.
We owe it to our children and to ourselves to foster generations of youth that are self-aware, well-adjusted contributors to society. This will, in turn, help us work toward a more educated and competent voting and governing populace, which will help us to build the future that we want for our country.
It is only right that we should try and provide a better experience for our children early on, in hopes that they can grow into functional, happy members of society.