Illinois Governor Signs Law to Include Social-Emotional Screening in School Health Exams

 

Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and Diana Rauner, President of Ounce of Prevention Fund

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Consistent with being the first state to adopt standards for social emotional learning (SEL) in the country, Illinois recently passed legislation (SB 565, Public Act 99-0927) to require social and emotional screenings for children as part of the their school entry examinations. Governor Rauner (R) signed the bill on January 20. It goes into effect June 1 of this year.

The new law requires the Department of Public Health to develop regulations to include age-appropriate social and emotional screening in the health examination that already includes other health and dental exams for all school children in the state. The rules will be developed in the Office of Women's Health and Family Services in consultation with statewide organizations representing school boards, pediatricians, and educators along with mental health experts, state education and healthcare officials, and others.

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IL Sen. Kimberly A. Lightford

The prime sponsor of the bill—first introduced in in the Senate in 2015—is Sen. Kimberly A. Lightford (D-Maywood), Assistant Majority Leader and Vice Chair of the Education Committee. In a press release issued after the bill’s passage, she said the effort was “aimed at identifying potential mental health problems in school-age children, removing the stigma of mental illness and reducing teen suicide by identifying their needs and providing early intervention. “ 

The legislation was supported by a number of child advocacy organizations including Ounce of Prevention Fund that is headed by the Governor’s wife, Diana Rauner, the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership, and Chicago Medical-Legal Partnership for Children at Legal Council for Health Justice. Amy Zimmerman, director of the Chicago Medical-Legal Partnership—citing the organization's description "We all screen for healthy futures"—emphasizes the importance of universal screening to fight stigma and identify difficulties early. 

The contentious relationship between the Governor’s office and the legislature has contributed to the state’s inability to pass a balanced budget during the Governor’s tenure that started in 2015. One advocate described the lack of a budget as the cause of an "implosion of our social service structures."

Stakeholders involved in the process agreed that specific tools should not be listed in the legislation. Sen. Lightford’s office provided a list of a number of sample screening tools available, including some that are approved for reimbursement under the Medicaid program. The sample tools listed were: Ages and Stages Questionnaire 3 (45-50 months); Ages and Stages Questionnaire SE (54-65 months); Pediatric Symptom Checklist (3-11 years); Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (11-17 years); and Patient Health Questionnaire (13 and up). It is not clear whether the regulatory process to implement the law will address screening for adverse childhood experiences.

CASEL-LogoSince Illinois adopted standards for social emotional learning in 2004, “several other states have adopted similar policies or are currently considering and developing such policies,” according to CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, Emotional Learning). CASEL tracks the development of state standards on an ongoing basis and is available to states to support their efforts to implement standards into education practice. A CASEL issue brief reports that in addition to Illinois, three other states (Kansas, Pennsylvania, West Virginia) have developed free-standing standards for SEL. In 2016, CASEL launched the Collaborating States Initiative to accelerate this work.

For details on the Social/Emotional Learning Standards developed by the Illinois State Board of Education, click here. Classroom activities to align with the standards have been developed by the Illinois Early Learning Project.

The CASEL website also has numerous resources specifically on how the Illinois standards were developed:

—The University of Illinois Institute of Government and Public Affairs describes how Illinois legislators adopted policies that led to the development of the state’s K-12 SEL standards. Download report (2011).

—How Illinois and Pennsylvania developed SEL standards, preschool through high school. Download report (2013).

—How CASEL and the University of Illinois at Chicago SEL Research Group conducted the initial scan of state SEL standards. Download brief (2011).

—How to implement the Illinois state standards on early learning and child development to affect SEL in the classroom. Download article (2015).

 

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This is a fantastic step in the right direction for our school children, and is crucial, I believe, to countering the drain of new policies around promoting charter schools over and public schools that struggle.

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