Improving Access to Mental Healthcare for Children and Foster Care Families

Improving Access to Mental Healthcare for Children and Foster Care Families

Concerns for Children & Young Adults

Today, many children face the difficult reality of living with mental health issues. Mental healthcare disorders can greatly impact how children behave, interact, and learn as they get older. These disorders can have serious implications for a child’s emotions, greatly impeding their happiness and daily lives.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 6 children ages 2-8 have a mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder. The most diagnosed mental health disorders among children ages 3-17 include:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – 6 million children
  • Anxiety – 5.8 million children
  • Behavioral problems – 5.5 million children
  • Depression – 2.7 million children

Living with one of these disorders is difficult enough, but many children are diagnosed with more than one mental health disorder. About 73.8% of children with depression also experienced anxiety, and 47.2% experienced behavioral issues.

The concern surrounding mental health issues increases as children reach adolescence during age 10-19. Adolescence marks a major transformation in a child’s life as they navigate new social, physical, and emotional health changes. Adolescents may experience increased anxiety around puberty, social acceptance, and finding independence.

In 2019, more than 1 in 3 high school students experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, marking a staggering 40% increase since 2009. Thoughts of suicide among the adolescent population have also increased. Out of American young adults age 15-24, 20% have reported serious thoughts of suicide. Sadly, about 14 in 100,000 young adults commit suicide.

These mental health issues are especially prominent in children facing adversity such as poverty, homelessness, abuse, hunger, and more. Many times, children and families living in difficult situations such as these are unable to access the critical behavioral healthcare they need to prevent further serious mental health issues later in life.

One specific population experiencing adverse childhood events are children in the foster care system. Like many children facing adversity, children in foster care have a higher risk of developing behavioral health issues. About 80% of the over 400,000 American children in foster care suffer from a mental health issue and are two times more likely to experience post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than war veterans.

Current Challenges

Lack of knowledge and shortage of inpatient behavioral healthcare services and community-based alternatives can create major obstacles for foster care children and adolescents in need of treatment.

This presents a unique challenge as early diagnosis and intervention is essential for children living with behavioral disorders. Untreated mental illness may increase the risk of substance use disorder, homelessness, unemployment, incarceration, suicide, and more later in life.

“Untreated mental health disorders can have a debilitating impact on children’s healthful growth and throughout their transition to adulthood. … Our findings suggest alarming gaps in treatment for treatable mental health conditions among children. This could lead to increased, preventable risk for these and other health conditions becoming worse later in life.”

Daniel Whitney, Ph.D., Post-doctoral fellow with Michigan Medicine’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

It is clear limited access to treatment can deeply impact a child’s behavioral health for the rest of their lives. How can we do our part in providing technology to help ensure children in foster care get the critical mental health support they need to live long, happy lives?

Steps to Improvement

One of the first steps in improving these distressing numbers is to bridge the gap between availability of treatment and access to treatment for children in need. At Bamboo Health, we are dedicated to working with state governments to deliver technological innovation to address the behavioral health issues of all children, especially those in foster care.

How Bamboo Health Can Help

Through OpenBeds, our comprehensive treatment and referral network, states can foster collaboration between patients, providers, referral centers, and other stakeholders to improve patient outcomes. This solution offers the ability for healthcare professionals to access decision support tools and make digital referrals to appropriate behavioral health treatment facilities for children in need of care.

Changing the state of mental health for children and adolescents takes a village, and it’s time for us to act whether it be at a city, county, or state level. By improving access to care for adolescents in crisis, we can play our part in improving our country’s behavioral health crisis.

What is your state doing to help foster children in need? Tell us how we can help.