The COVID-19 pandemic has clearly been difficult on kids. However, the depth and breadth of its impact is only slowly coming into view, especially for the most vulnerable children.
Previously, we spoke with Leonard Feld, MD, about the challenges children’s hospitals are facing to meet the needs of their patients. One of the major concerns that surfaced was addressing mental health, which has been exacerbated by health concerns, social isolation, economic pressures, and the seemingly endless array of school shootings and other violence.1
From 2016-2020 the number of children diagnosed with anxiety and/or depression increased by nearly 30%. That number is even higher for victims of abuse or neglect with nearly 50% of those with depression and other behavioral disorders reporting childhood maltreatment. Extended virtual classes and suspension of sports and other activities have also reduced the opportunity for teachers and coaches to observe warning signs and refer kids for help.2,3
Many child welfare agencies grappling with high turnover rates and low reimbursement lack a stable workforce and sufficient resources. Additionally, lack of appropriated treatment settings or access to resources can result in long waits and placement in out of state foster care, increasing the stress on children in need.
To get further perspective, we spoke with Guidehouse’s State Government Health Leader Tamyra Porter. She discussed the recent call to action from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to maximize support for children’s mental health needs. Agencies including the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the Health Resources and Services Administration, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have pledged to coordinate federal funding streams for states to support this effort and strengthen children’s well-being.4
There is a major need for agencies to proactively evaluate organizational wellness and implement policies and programs to enhance child and caregiver well-being. This includes innovating funding streams to support the right interventions at the point of care, dedicating the appropriate resources, and investing in interoperable systems so that agencies and caregivers communicate more effectively.
New coordinated funding can provide a clear opportunity to overcome legacy obstacles, embrace innovation, and properly serve the most vulnerable among us. To do this, state, local, and territorial governments will need to prioritize their needs, secure the necessary funds, and develop a roadmap for transformation.
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