Finding mental health care providers for children

Chittick Elementary SchoolMost of the time, City Connects coordinators find the resources needed for each of their schools’ students. But sometimes, even in cities that are teeming with programs, agencies, and services, coordinators cannot find the resources that would best serve a particular child.

One such challenge that coordinators routinely face is finding enough mental health counselors for children who need them. Approximately, 13-20 percent of children have a mental health diagnosis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention..

It’s a problem that the Boston Globe covered in a recent article.

“Harvard researchers posing as the parent of a depressed 12-year-old called hundreds of child psychiatrists and pediatricians looking for appointments, and discovered what many actual parents know through bitter experience: Most of the time the calls were fruitless.

“The group phoned 913 doctors listed as network providers by Blue Cross Blue Shield organizations in Boston, Chapel Hill, N.C., Houston, Minneapolis, and Seattle. After two attempts, they were able to get an appointment with a pediatrician 40 percent of the time and with a psychiatrist a meager 17 percent, according to the study published Tuesday in the International Journal of Health Services.”

The researchers also found long wait times – and grimmer results for Medicaid recipients.

When appointments could be found, the wait time “ranged from an average of 12 days in Chapel Hill to 30 days in Seattle — though the average wait time for a psychiatrist was far longer at 43 days. The overall average wait in the Boston area was 15 days.”

“Researchers also found that the chance of getting an appointment plummeted when they said the child was insured by Medicaid, the government program for the poor and disabled. When they told doctors’ offices they had private insurance or would pay out-of-pocket, they got an appointment 37 percent of the time. When they mentioned Medicaid, that dropped to 22 percent. Boyd said fewer doctors accept Medicaid, which tends to pay doctors lower rates.”

Though these barriers to accessing mental health care are real, City Connects coordinators can respond in a number of ways. Coordinators can initiate new partnerships with community health organizations and bring together community agencies for potential collaboration. Coordinators can also run small psycho-educational groups at school, and they can share real-time, aggregated information with policymakers who can help close critical gaps in services.

Addressing the shortage of providers is essential. Here at City Connects, we know that children with unaddressed mental health problems can struggle to learn in school. They can fall behind their peers and fail to find a foothold in an increasingly high-tech economy.

To start strong and do well in school – and life – some children need strong mental health resources.

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