Increasing Access and Coordination of Quality Mental Health Services for Children and Adolescents

Background

Child and adolescent mental health problems are at a point of crisis for our nation. One out of every ten children or adolescents has a serious mental health problem, and another 10% have mild to moderate problems. Mental health problems in young people can lead to tragic consequences, including suicide, substance abuse, inability to live independently, involvement with the correctional system, failure to complete high school, lack of vocational success, and health problems.

There is a lack of mental health services for children and adolescents. Less than half of children with mental health problems get treatment, services, or support. Only one in five gets treatment from a mental health worker with special training to work with children. Families that are poor, are people of color, or have children with other disabilities or health concerns have an especially difficult time getting services that would identify, prevent or treat mental health problems.  Children and adolescents with mental health problems are usually involved with more than one agency or service system, including mental health, special education, child welfare, juvenile justice, substance abuse, and health. However, no agency or system usually takes responsibility for coordinating their care or prevents them from falling through the cracks and not getting needed services.

The costs of mental health problems in children are great for our country. They affect children, adolescents, and their families as well as schools, communities, employers, and the nation as a whole.

Talking Points

Quality mental health services to prevent, identify, and treat children and families are unavailable in most communities. This is especially true for children living in poverty, those of color, and those with other disabilities:

  • Mental health problems must be considered to be just as important as physical health problems by health care providers, and as significant as learning problems by educators. Mental health assessment and care needs to be integrated into all children's overall healthcare and education.

  • Early identification of mental health problems needs to be encouraged in preschool, childcare, education, health, welfare, and juvenile justice settings, and substance abuse treatment programs. Staff in these programs must develop a greater awareness of the early warning signs of mental health problems, what to do about them, and where to make referrals for further assistance.

  • Available mental health services must reflect current knowledge of prevention and treatment approaches that have been found to be safe and most effective, and a strategy must be developed to be sure that quality services are accessible to all children.

  • Support training of more mental health professionals to work with children, adolescents, and their families and to provide care that is sensitive to family needs, cultural differences, and what is appropriate for children at different ages.

  • Increase coordination and sharing of information by local agencies serving children and youth with mental health problems.