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What Challenges do Parents Face in Accessing Mental Health Care for Children?

By Pam Dewey • children's mental health, children mental health care, children's mental health care, kids and mental health, parents accessing mental health care, accessing mental health care for children, children's mental health services, mental health children, kids and depression, kids and anxiety, kids and adhd, mental illness kids, mental illness children • May 26, 2022

Children are struggling with their mental health. The situation is so serious that leading doctors’ groups have issued an urgent warning.  

MPR states that the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Children's Hospital Association and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry “has issued an urgent warning declaring the mental health crisis among children so dire that it has become a national emergency.” The group further says, "This worsening crisis in child and adolescent mental health is inextricably tied to the stress brought on by COVID-19 and the ongoing struggle for racial justice and represents an acceleration of trends observed prior to 2020.”

That means many worried parents are struggling to access the mental health care their children so desperately need.

To create a more “comprehensive, integrated, and culturally responsive mental health system,” the Hennepin County Children’s Mental Health Collaborative (CMHC) recently conducted a study to map families’ experiences with getting their children services. Here is what the survey revealed about the challenges parents are facing in accessing mental health care.

Mental health issues viewed as behavior issues

One challenge parents face is that mental health issues are sometimes viewed as behavior problems.

For children of color, this is even more of a concern.  According to the Center for American Progress, “Black people have long been at risk for higher rates of misdiagnoses, and many psychiatric diagnostic criteria have explicitly racist origins meant to pathologize Black peoples’ behavior. In schools, psychiatric problems for Black students are more likely to be disciplined than treated.”

The CMHC survey quotes one parent as saying, “I started getting calls from school. At first, it was weekly, but got to the point that it was nearly every day. Teachers would tell me that he misbehaved, that they didn’t know how to work with him, or that he was refusing to do what he was told. It was always addressed as a discipline issue.”

Shortage of available services

Another concern is getting children access to the services they need. The CMHC survey states, “Shortages were described across the continuum of care, with parents saying that they were unable to access outpatient therapy, psychiatric support, partial hospitalization and day treatment programs, residential care, and hospitalization.” In other words, Hennepin County needs more mental health service providers to support children and teens.

Parents feel like it’s their fault

Mental illness is stigmatized, leaving people feeling ashamed of their mental health difficulties. Parents often transfer the stigma to themselves. They may feel embarrassed that their child is dealing with depression or anxiety and worry that it is somehow their fault. That might make them less likely to talk about what they’re going through. Parents who worry about the stigma are more likely to struggle even more. But sharing their experience and asking for support can lessen the burden and help parents realize they aren’t alone in dealing with these issues.

Unsure of next steps

After their child receives an assessment and diagnosis, some parents expressed that they’re unsure what to do next. The CMHC survey quotes a parent as saying, “Everything is on your own. You are given nothing that says what the next step is or how to get help.” This makes it hard for parents to find the right services for their children and determine the programs they qualify for, causing delays in treatment for children.

Need for more complex services

Another challenge parents face is their child may require more than one type of service. For example, in addition to a mental health issue like depression, perhaps their child also has autism or an intellectual disability. The CMHC survey states, “Parents also found it hard to find specialized services for children with complex or unique needs, such as cognitive impairments, histories of aggression or health challenges.” Many service providers may also be wary of serving children who display aggressive behavior.

Fraser helps you navigate next steps

The good news for Minnesota parents is Fraser offers answers to many of these problems. After your child receives a mental health evaluation at Fraser, we walk you through possible next steps. Parents receive a report with our findings. We may provide you with a diagnosis, identify treatment options and make recommendations for services. You won’t be stuck wondering about the next step because we provide you with options and offer a large array of children’s mental health services at Fraser.

We specialize in serving children with complex needs

Our staff has expertise in helping people with many different diagnoses. That makes us uniquely qualified to serve children with co-occurring conditions and complex or unique needs.

Case managers help you find the services your family needs

The CMHC survey also states, “Support from trained professionals made a tremendous difference to families seeking mental health services.” Fraser Case Management helps families access and navigate the complex medical and mental health system. Our case managers connect families to medical, social, educational, financial, and other needed services that support mental health.

Children are struggling with their mental health, and parents face challenges accessing crucial mental health services. Fraser has served children with complex mental and physical needs for more than 85 years. We can help families find answers, walk you through next steps and work with you to create an individualized care plan. Our care also evolves with you and your child throughout a lifetime.