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Low-Income Children In D.C. Underserved On Mental Health, Report Finds

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The results for the District are mixed. (The Children's Law Center)

Despite some progress, more than 5,000 low-income children who need mental health services in the District aren’t getting the help they need. That’s according to the second annual report card from the nonprofit, Children’s Law Center.

Judith Sandalow is head of Children’s Law Center. She says children’s mental health needs can range from a few sessions of play therapy to the long term management of more serious disorders such as schizophrenia. And Sandalow says low income children are more at risk for mental health problems.

"Because poor children are much more likely to suffer trauma, to see violence in their community, to be homeless and to witness domestic violence," she says.

Sandalow says the District has made progress in a number of areas. For example, there are new kinds of treatments available and new programs to screen young children. There’s also a new streamlined credentialing process for mental health providers and an increase in reimbursement rates.

"The District has across the board increased the rates we pay mental health providers by 15 percent and that’s important," she says.

But she says there’s a lot more needs to be done. The quality of mental health services in the District is very uneven for the more than 5,000 children who need services. And Sandalow says children have to wait far too long for treatment.

"It takes 22 days on average for a child to be connected to a provider once they’ve been referred," Sandalow says. "Those are critical days and it can often lead to a decline in the child."

Sandalow says a local law requires mental health programs in all public schools by 2016, but there there’s no money in the upcoming budget proposal to fund new services. She says without more funding and services for children’s mental health needs, education reforms and child welfare programs with stagnate.

Partial support for education reporting comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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