This is an editorial by Lana Nenide, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Infant Mental Health (WI-AIMH), written in response to “CBS 58 Investigates: Shortage of children’s mental health care leaves parents desperate for help.”
My heart breaks when I read the words of the parent whose child is suffering from mental illness. I can feel her pain and hear her struggles.
However, my broken heart won’t fix things…. Yes, it is evident – our state needs to have more child psychologists and psychiatrists available to support young children.
As the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Infant Mental Health, I also have to point out that that there is a significant lack of clinicians who specialize in infant and early childhood mental health, which severely limits access to services. It is estimated that between 9.5% and 14.2% of children age birth to 5 experience an emotional or behavioral disturbance, and preschool expulsion rates are more than three times the expulsion rate of students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
These startling statistics make it clear that very young children do have mental health needs, and that professionals who work with very young children need specialized knowledge, experience and support when it comes to particularly difficult situations.
Many mental health clinicians do not have appropriate training and knowledge of early childhood development, infant and toddler specific diagnoses, conditions and treatment modalities, maternal mental health, and other multidisciplinary considerations that are critical components to being a properly skilled infant-early childhood mental health clinician.
Investing 1.2 million dollars into creating an 8-bed children crisis treatment facility is only putting a bandage on a gushing wound.
We need to have a system – a comprehensive system that ranges from promotion/prevention to intervention to treatment to support our families across the continuum of care.
We need to allocate resources to increase the capacity of the existing mental health workforce to more effectively address the issues relating to infant and early childhood mental health. We also must invest into the creation of programs to prevent mental health disorders and then infuse these prevention programs into existing services for families with young children.
Together we can decrease or even prevent a lot of suffering that parents and children are experiencing around our state.