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Mental health care is just as crucial to well-being as physical health care. Yet many children don’t receive the mental health services they need. At Nemours Children’s, we are committed to improving mental health care for our nation’s youth.

Children across the country are experiencing heightened behavioral health challenges. At the same time, resources for addressing these needs are declining.

Nemours is working to deliver high-quality, accessible children’s mental health care. We’re engaged in both local projects and national advocacy to expand and improve behavioral health services.

COVID-19 Further Burdens Children’s Mental Health

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, up to 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 had a mental, emotional, developmental or behavioral disorder. Throughout the pandemic, the need for pediatric mental health services has only increased.

Since the pandemic began, mental health-related emergency room visits have increased:

  • 25% for children ages 5 to 11
  • More than 30% for youth ages 12 to 17

That spike comes on the back of a sad reality: Many children don’t receive the mental health treatment they need, including:

  • 40% of children living with anxiety
  • 45% of children living with behavior disorders

We’ve built our initiatives with that larger background in mind. The pandemic has starkly highlighted these needs, but they will still exist when it ends.

Disparities in access to behavioral health care

Many environmental factors, or social determinants of health (SDOH), affect children’s mental health and access to health care. Young people of color, and those living in rural or under-resourced communities, are less likely to access mental health services:

  • Just 35% of Black or Hispanic youth receive treatment for major depressive episodes, compared to about 50% of white youth.
  • Only 15% of children living in poverty receive mental health care, and even fewer complete mental health treatment plans if they receive them.

All these trends point to a dire need to improve mental health care for all children. We are working on several initiatives designed to increase access, train providers and improve federal policies.

Integrated Mental Health Services

Nemours has launched a children’s mental health pilot program with funding from TD Bank, America’s Most Convenient Bank®.

In 2021, Mental Health America ranked states according to mental health care access, with Delaware ranking 5th and Florida 48th. The Nemours Children’s Health Integrated Behavioral Health Initiative is a one-year pilot program designed for primary care offices across these two states.

The initiative shifts away from a model of standalone behavioral health resources. Instead, we’ll embed pediatric psychologists, clinical social workers and professional counselors in pediatric primary care offices. This approach gives children access to mental health care in the setting where they receive most of their care.

Hidden Helpers Initiative

We have joined the Hidden Helpers, a collaboration of the White House’s Joining Forces initiative, the Elizabeth Dole Foundation and the Wounded Warrior Project.

Launched in April 2021, Hidden Helpers focuses on uplifting the voices of youth caring for parents wounded in war. Nemours is working with the Elizabeth Dole Foundation to create a toolkit for pediatric care providers. The toolkit will help physicians, nurses, mental health providers and allied health professionals better understand and address the unique challenges these children face.

Raising Resilient Kids Video Series

Nemours and the Michael Phelps Foundation have partnered to launch the Raising Resilient Kids video series. Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps and his wife, Nicole – parents and mental health advocates – noticed that kids needed extra support during the COVID-19 pandemic. The short, conversational videos share practical advice to help parents tackle common concerns around their children’s socio-emotional health. Each video offers expert-approved advice and actionable tips families can practice at home.

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Policy Recommendations to Improve Pediatric Mental Health

Nemours and Mental Health America have partnered to develop comprehensive federal policy recommendations. Our proposals aim to rapidly improve mental, emotional and behavioral health for children and teens in the U.S.

We call on Congress and the Executive Branch to:

Invest in the children’s behavioral health workforce

We must expand the mental, emotional and behavioral health workforce for pediatric care by:

  • Increasing funding
  • Offering incentives and training reimbursement
  • Placing particular emphasis on professionals who are Black, Indigenous or LGBTQ+ or who live in rural areas  

Increase access to care

We must improve access to care in locations that work for families. Strategies to achieve this goal include:

  • Increasing Medicaid reimbursement
  • Integrating mental health care into primary care practices, schools and other settings that serve children

Create national programs

We ask that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention create a center dedicated to reversing recent alarming trends in children’s mental health. This center would lead national strategy and oversee related programs. Simultaneously, we call on the government to increase funding for pediatric programs in the Department of Health and Human Services and Department of Education.

Establish federal task forces

We call on our nation’s leaders to establish:

Promoting innovative delivery models

Our country must promote innovative Medicaid payment and delivery models that optimize health across lifespans. We recommend an emphasis on models that capture long-term value and engage multiple sectors, such as maternal mental health or kindergarten readiness.  

Strategies to Increase Well-being

Our mental health initiatives are just one example of how we prioritize and increase children’s well-being. We also partner with experts to promote health in children’s early years. Learn more about our strategies in early care and education.