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Keywords:

  • Children;
  • disabilities;
  • utilization;
  • mental health services;
  • care coordination;
  • family burden

Objective. To examine the use of mental health services and correlates of receiving services among community-dwelling children with disabilities, ages 6 to 17 years.

Study Design. Data are from the 1994 and 1995 National Health Interview Survey Disability Supplements (NHIS-D), conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics. The study sample is 4,939 children with disabilities, representing an estimated eight million children with disabilities nationwide. Parents of children under 16 years of age reported (17-year-olds self-reported) on health, emotional and behavioral problems, mental health services use, and who, if anyone, coordinated the child's health care.

Principal Findings. Among disabled children with poor psychosocial adjustment (11.5 percent), only 41.8 percent received mental health services in the past year. Multivariate logistic regression analysis showed service use was associated with poor psychosocial adjustment; communication, social, and learning-related functional impairments; public health insurance; and financial family burdens. Younger and black disabled children were less likely to receive mental health services. The odds of service use were greater with the involvement of a health professional in coordinating care, in contrast to no one or family only. Moreover, children with disabilities were more likely to use outpatient mental health services if their care was jointly coordinated by a family member and a health professional, compared to a health professional working alone. In contrast to inpatient and outpatient care, race and family burden were not associated with the likelihood of mental health counseling in special education school settings.

Conclusions. Findings indicate that only two in five disabled children with poor psychosocial adjustment receive mental health services. Differences by age, race, and insurance coverage suggest that inequalities to access exist. However, the school setting may be one in which some barriers to mental health services for disabled children are reduced. The study also shows that the involvement of health professionals in care coordination is associated with greater access to mental health care for disabled children. These findings underscore the importance of engaging both health care professionals and the family in the care process.