Childhood Mental Health Screenings and Services Must be Improved

Outcomes for students with emotional disorders continue to be the worst of any disability group.

Outcomes for students with emotional disorders continue to be the worst of any disability group.

by Andrea Spencer & Jay E. Sicklick -

The shootings in Newtown, Chicago and other communities raised concerns about mental health relative to those committing such crimes, but the discussion has missed a critically important point. Screening for early warning signs and providing accessible mental health services and supports as early as possible has lifelong, multi-generational consequences for children and their families.

As an educator and a lawyer, our observations increasingly suggest that the futures of children, if not their lives, will continue to be destroyed if we do not take advantage of a vital opportunity to adequately address their mental health.

That is why we propose the following multi-disciplinary approach to identifying and addressing children’s mental and developmental health while promoting early intervention and access to services.

First — Connecticut should adopt the “Massachusetts model,” using the existing requirements of federal Medicaid law to require pediatric and family medicine providers to incorporate a basic mental health screening at all well child visits, beginning in the preschool years. The existing Medicaid reimbursement system must be revamped to accommodate and pay a meaningful amount for these screenings (whether in a private practice or hospital clinic) — and these providers must be supported through innovative initiatives such as medical homes, which oversee and guide a patient’s care, and other multidisciplinary models to bolster and support at-risk children.

Second — Strengthen Connecticut’s system for ensuring that abused and neglected babies and toddlers receive timely access to early intervention services from the existing Birth to Three program. This includes requiring an automatic referral for birth-to-three screenings and evaluations for children who have an open case with the Department of Children and Families and a substantiation of abuse or neglect; and requiring effective data tracking to report on the efficacy of early intervention services.

This proposal and the belief that we must take action for change for children as young as infancy is rooted not only in years of professional experience, training and on the ground advocacy, but in the findings of our recent report, “Blind Spot: Unidentified Risk Factors to Children’s Mental Health.” This details an investigation of school records of adolescents with emotional and behavioral disorders and mental illness.

These school records told stories of adolescents with mental health problems that surfaced years earlier. Most were described by kindergarten teachers as engaged and motivated to learn; but by their teen years, depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorders, and suicidal and self-injurious behaviors threatened to overwhelm their potential for success.

Read more at Early childhood mental health services vita.

[Via The Hartford Courant]

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