Mental health matters, especially in early childhood. That’s why the Massachusetts Early Childhood Mental Health Partnership has released a new tool for providers and programs that want to integrate child mental health into pediatric primary care.
The new “Early Childhood Mental Health Toolkit: Integrating Mental Health Services into the Pediatric Medical Home” presents a model that is based on “a partnership between a family partner and mental health clinician,” according to the partnership’s website.
“A small change at the pediatrician’s office can make a large difference for all U.S. children,” the website says. “Integrating early childhood mental health staff, services, and systems into pediatric practices, also known as medical homes, transforms primary care visits into holistic visits that care for the physical and mental health of a young child.”
It’s a whole-child approach that can help families access services more quickly.
“While some mental health needs clearly call for the services of a specialist,” the website explains, “experience indicates that with adequate supports, the pediatric medical home can be the key to early identification, diagnosis and either treatment or coordination of treatment for early childhood mental health conditions.”
That’s why the website’s goal: “is to provide as many of those supports as we can online, and to facilitate your access to them when referral is called for.”
The partnership’s work is the united effort of the commonwealth’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services and the Department of Public Health and of the Boston Public Health Commission. Funding was provided by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
The toolkit has four sections that cover many of the nuts and bolts of integrating mental health services. They are:
This section covers staffing and explains how “to identify, hire, and train/support early childhood mental health staff.” There is also “guidance on assessing resources, identifying areas of need, and beginning to plan a service delivery model.”
The details in this section include:
– evaluating the credentials of a mental health professional
– sample job descriptions, and
– supporting professional development through training and supervision of the core team
This section covers program design, and how to organize “a full spectrum of early childhood mental health services, including sample referral criteria, care plan templates, and group activities. Tools for promotion, prevention, and intervention focused services are supplied.”
Strategies in this section include:
– promoting activities that support good mental health such as parent groups, community outings, and mental health awareness days
– supporting parents who are homeless, and
– developing a referral system that provides a “warm handoff” to a mental health professional, meaning a handoff that, whenever possible, includes a face-to-face introduction.
This section looks at service integration and how to “develop and refine systems across the medical home to assure successful service integration, including communication systems, medical record use, home and community based services, and addressing adult mental health needs in the pediatric setting.”
Among the ideas discussed are:
– creating policies and protocols for visiting patients’ homes
– using tools to assess stress and depression in parents and caregivers, and
– how to document sensitive family information such as immigration status
This section covers financing, including how to “guide evaluation and sustainability efforts, including sustainability strategies for each practice.” Among the ideas presented are:
– grant funding
– partnerships with hospitals, and
– evaluating the impact of mental health delivery models, and advocating for the expansion of successful ones
All these practical approaches to expanding mental health services for children are part of a larger effort. As the website explains:
“The Early Childhood Mental Health Partnership continues to work toward a reality that allows all children and families – particularly the most vulnerable – to have equitable access to high quality early childhood mental health enhanced medical homes.”