Strengthening the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Workforce

Dr. Purushothaman
September 5, 2013

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 get 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.

There are not enough mental health professionals trained to work specifically with children, adolescents, and their families:
Support education and training of more mental health professionals with the skills to deal effectively with the mental health needs of children, adolescents, and their families. Support workforce training on the advanced tools and methods that have been found to be safe and most effective for diagnosis and treatment of mental health problems in children and adolescents. Training should emphasize sensitivity to family needs, cultural differences, and what is appropriate for children at different ages. Support training of front line providers, including those in schools, child care settings, primary health care settings, the juvenile justice system, and child protective services, to screen for and recognize mental health problems in youth and to take appropriate action. Support training for researchers and encourage interdisciplinary research that will find new behavioural, pharmacological, and multiple component treatment approaches to child and adolescent mental health problems.

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