Making Pediatric Screening for Mental Health and Learning Disorders a Priority

About a year after the Healthy Brain Network got underway in Staten Island, the Staten Island Borough President’s office invited Healthy Brain Network team members to a meeting of the borough’s Performing Provider System organizations. Out of those meetings and discussions grew an effort called the Pediatric Screening Initiative. The goal of the initiative was to establish a pilot program to test the feasibility and value of implementing a brief mental health screener across pediatric offices and clinics in Staten Island, NY.

Why have mental health screenings at pediatric visits?

More than 17 million children in the United States struggle with a mental health or learning disorder during childhood and adolescence. That’s more than the number of children with cancer, diabetes, asthma and AIDS combined. Unrecognized and untreated, mental health and learning disorders put children and adolescents at risk for academic failure, substance abuse and clashes with the juvenile justice system.

Because most children have routine check-ups at least once each year, pediatric offices present a great opportunity for assessing a child’s risk for a disorder. By introducing screening for mental health and learning disorders as part of regular well visits, doctors can uncover potential concerns sooner and connect the families with the care their children need to get back on track. If successful, this program will establish a model for widespread integration of physical and mental health care, dramatically improving outcomes for children struggling with mental health and learning disorders.

How does automated mental health screening work?

The Child Mind Institute works with interested pediatric practices to set up and train office staff on use of iPads to administer and score screeners, and when and how to make referrals. All materials are provided by the initiative and office staff are trained in how to use them, including iPads and referral materials.

Once a practice is onboarded, parents are given iPads and shown how to take the screener while they wait for their child’s well visit to get underway. It takes only about 5-10 minutes total for parents to complete the screener. Parents return the iPad to an office staff member upon completion of the screener. Scoring of the screener is fully automated – staff can score a screener in as little as 1 minute with the touch of a button.

Families of children identified as “at risk” based on their screener responses are given information on community resources, including the Healthy Brain Network, a Child Mind Institute initiative offering no-cost comprehensive mental health and learning evaluations to children ages 5-21.

What’s next for the Pediatric Screening Initiative?

The Child Mind Institute has received a grant from The Hearst Foundations to develop its own tool for clinical assessment of pediatric mental health and learning disorders using the MATTER Lab’s existing MindLogger app. In conjunction with that effort, the initiative will begin recruiting pediatric practices in Harlem. If you have a Harlem pediatric practice and are interested in implementing the tool at well visits with your patients, email us about joining the effort.

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