Early Mental Health Screenings Support Families

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All parents worry about their children’s health. In conversations, parents compare how their children are developing, raise concerns and questions when children are slow to exhibit developmental benchmarks, and seek advice on guiding children to a healthy life through diet, discipline, strong role models. Parents endlessly discuss the thousands of questions that comprise the difficult job of raising kids. These conversations provide knowledge and reassurance – our children’s overall health is of the utmost importance to parents and caretakers.

Mom and son visit Doctor Flickr uwhealth

If you have a concern about your child’s behavior or development, you have the right to ask a nurse, physician, or other practitioner for your child to be examined with early childhood mental health screening tools.

Parents can also turn to medical experts for support and guidance. Here is a little unsolicited advice to aid caretakers in maximizing a child’s yearly medical check-up: if you have a concern about your child’s behavior or development, you have the right to ask a nurse, physician, or other practitioner for your child to be screened with the early childhood mental health screening tools commonly used in the pediatric setting. The process is quick and can yield important answers to your questions as well as sound direction to support your child’s well being.

Using early mental health-screening tools is one way of ensuring that children’s mental and emotional health receives the same level of attention as their physical health. Completing a mental health screening at an early age or when a parent feels there may be a concern is an invaluable proactive step. Early screening increases the chances a child’s mental health will receive timely attention and that strong mental health will continue into their later adolescent years and adulthood (Carlson, & et al., 2012).

Parents can be their children’s strongest advocates. There are a few easy steps that families can take to ensure children receive the early mental health services appropriate to their needs.

Pediatrician with young baby Flickr weallfallapart

This March, Vanessa Bertoni, an intern at Family Continuity’s Plymouth Clinic along with her fellow MSW interns and researchers, developed and completed a survey-structured study that uncovered many important findings. The study found that screenings were a valuable but not perfect tool. First, not everyone was informed of their child’s right to early screening. Out of the 88 parents and caretakers who participated, 41% of them did not know that early child screening is their child’s right. Secondly, although the screens provided a great deal of valuable information, the survey also revealed that 60% of parent caretakers felt that the screening tools in their pediatric offices missed at least one area of concern they had for their child’s mental health. A follow-up report of these and other findings will recommend ways that the screening tools and processes can be improved to provide more complete answers.

Parents can be their children’s strongest advocates. There are a few easy steps that families can take to ensure children receive the early mental health services appropriate to their needs. Families can:

  • Ask their pediatricians if their child would benefit from being screened during a visit;
  • Learn about the screening processes and not hesitate to ask questions about the tools;
  • Talk to other parents and peers to raise awareness of children’s health in the school pick-up line or on the sports sidelines. In these settings, families can learn what other parents’ experiences have been and discuss unanswered questions.
  • Finally, anyone can spread the word to family and friends to ensure more children are able to benefit from mental health screenings at their pediatric offices.

To learn more about Early Mental Health Screening for Children visit The Massachusetts Children’s Behavioral Health Initiative or The Zero to Three Project.

 

STEPS logoAbout the Authors: We are a 2014 Wheelock College Masters of Social Work student group working on a human rights action-based integrative project. The purpose of our project is to learn how families perceive the effectiveness of the current early mental health screening tools that are used at their specific pediatric office and how we can improve the quality of these screening tools in all pediatric offices. As a research group, we are working with Family Continuity, a non-profit mental health and social services agency. Group Members are Vanessa Bertoni, Amanda Doolittle, Michelle Green, Sam Kellogg, Joanne Spadaro.

Reference :Carlson, J. S., Mackrain, M. A., van Egeren, L. A., Brophy‐Herb, H., Kirk, R. H., Marciniak, D., & Tableman, B. (2012). Implementing a statewide early childhood mental health consultation approach to preventing child care expulsion. Infant Mental Health Journal, 33(3), 265-273.

Flickr photos courtesy of UWHealth and weallfallapart and used under a Creative Commons attribution license. 

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