Report: Mental health services limited for RI children

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island’s mental health care capacity remains limited for the vast majority of children and adolescents who need it, according to a recently-released report by Rhode Island KIDS COUNT.

The report states that one in five Rhode Island children between the ages of 6 and 17 suffers from a diagnosable mental health disorder, and those who seek help “struggle to get adequate, timely and affordable care.”

“Inaccessibility is caused by insurance-related barriers, lack of clinicians and extremely long waitlists,” the report continues. “These challenges were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. when some mental health programs closed temporarily.”

The report also indicates that children of color are less likely to seek help, and when they do “it is more likely to be inadequate due to the lack of a diverse, culturally and linguistically, competent workforce.”

The number of calls into the Kids’ Link RI hotline peaked last year, according to the report. While they’ve declined slightly since then, the report notes that the number of calls remains higher than prior to the start of the pandemic.

Rhode Island remains in a state of emergency for child and adolescent mental health, which is why Rhode Island KIDS COUNT is issuing a call to action.

“Our kids can’t wait,” Rhode Island KIDS COUNT Executive Director Elizabeth Burke Bryant said. “Rhode Island needs to create and invest in a seamless and coordinated behavioral health system of care for children and their families.”

“This system needs to align with and strengthen current systems and provide the right care, at the right time, in the right place and support children as they grow and transition to adults,” she continued.

Rhode Island KIDS COUNT listed a number of ways the state can make mental health services more accessible for children, including streamlining behavioral health care, addressing workforce challenges and providing families with financial and community support.

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