Mental, behavioral and developmental disorders in children can persist into adulthood if not given proper attention at an early age. But access to mental health services is out of reach for many of those who need it the most.
In 2014, a reported 20 percent of all children in the U.S. lived in poverty. Of these, less than 15 percent received treatment for disorders such as anxiety problems, intellectual disabilities and developmental delay, among others.
The risk factors in low-income households for these disorders is especially significant; children living in these situations often struggle with nutritional intake, quality of relationships, food insecurity and housing problems.
Also, children living in poverty typically have trouble accessing care at pediatric clinics. Often, this is due to a variety of barriers such as lack of health insurance and transportation, especially for those in rural areas. Researchers say these hurdles, combined with the daily stressors many low-income individuals face, make it nearly impossible for them to receive adequate treatment.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says public assistance programs could help more families by incorporating more mental health services into existing programs the families already are using.
An example is the CDC’s “Learn the Signs,” in which the Act Early program connects Women, Infants and Children staffers with resources for parents about the identification of developmental delays. Such initiatives would result in early identification of mental, behavioral and developmental disorders and give these most vulnerable children a better chance at a fuller life.