HHS will spend more than $14 million to expand telehealth-based mental health services for children and adolescents, the agency said Thursday.
The additional funding will grow the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access program, which aims to integrate behavioral health services into pediatric primary care via telehealth, to new states and regions. About 22% of children have a behavioral health-related condition, but just 20% of them receive care from a specialized provider.
"Now more than ever, families need mental and behavioral healthcare for their children, but significant disparities in access to this treatment continue to exist. The expansion of the Pediatric Mental Health Care Access Program paves the way for more children to receive necessary mental health services, especially those in underserved communities," Health Resources and Services Administration acting administrator Diana Espinosa said in a statement.
According to HRSA, new state and regional networks of pediatric mental healthcare teams will deliver teleconsultations, training, technical assistance and care coordination for pediatric primary care providers to diagnose, treat and refer children and teenagers with behavioral health issues.
The COVID-19 pandemic has both increased the need for such services and made them harder to access. Social distancing practices have been especially hard for many children, which has led to a surge in reported cases of youth mental health disorders and incidents of self-harm. Many experts fear the true tipping point could come years after the pandemic's end when providers begin to see the health impact of children with mental health disorders that were left undiagnosed, unmanaged and untreated. As a result, the current environment has presented a unique opportunity for healthcare to re-examine and change how pediatric mental healthcare is delivered.