"Integrating Mental and Physical Health Care for Kids"
Original article written by Kelly Church for Children's Hospital Association
In the U.S., 7.7 million youth, ages 6 to 17, are estimated to have at least one treatable behavioral health disorder, yet only 51% receive care. While there has been progress in creating initiatives that focus on behavioral health, statistics remain high and communities are struggling. The article advocates for a systems of care approach– —the framework for effective community-based services and support for children and youth. There are 5 main elements of a system of care: a framework, not a prescription, for how things are organized; flexibility and creativity; local development to respond to community needs; addressing access and capacity; and building meaningful partnerships with children and families. Research shows that after one year of being a part of a system of care, children who experienced trauma had a 48% reduction in school absences, 41% experienced an increase in school performance, and 15% improved their competence in classroom tasks. "It's difficult, if not impossible, to keep kids healthy and well if we don't also address their mental health," says Amy Herbst, M.S.W., vice president of Mental and Behavioral Health at Children's Wisconsin in Milwaukee. "The goal is to meet kids and families where they are, bring behavioral health care close to home, and provide more services in the school, outpatient clinics and pediatrician offices, and use technology to reach kids with access barriers because of geography." Some important steps outlined in the article are creating capacity within our behavioral health systems to treat more children, helping families learn to navigate the behavioral health system, integrating mental health care with regular physical check-ups, and increasing access to behavioral health through telehealth. Systems of care has demonstrated positive outcomes-data shows kids in these programs have less suicidal ideation, have been kept out of higher-cost levels of care, remained safely in their homes, and had a reduction in negative interactions with law enforcement. Despite challenges, behavioral health specialists are optimistic that through carving our funding and resources, and developing community-specific programs grounded in systems of care, there can be great improvements to children's and adult's mental health outcomes.
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