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New Study Shows the Importance of Early Childhood Mental Health

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  A new study shows the importance of accessibility to early childhood mental health services.


Between 10-20% of all Utahn children could face mental, emotional, developmental or behavioral challenges, according to Samantha Ball, a senior research associate at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah.    


She said there’s a need for early childhood mental health services in the state. 

“Utah's among the states with the highest prevalence of child and adolescent mental health disorders, and youth with mental health disorders that are not receiving care,” Ball said. 


That’s why the Gardner Institute introduced their findings from a study on mental health resources in Utah. 


Laura Summers, senior healthcare analyst said the study shows how early childhood stressors can later affect mental health. 


“Research on adverse childhood experiences show relationships between the number of aces or stressors a child experiences and diminished health and well being outcomes both immediately and later in life,” Summers said.  “Data from the National Survey of children's health show that more than one in six children in Utah, ages zero to 17 have experienced two or more aces.”


Ball said there are a number of tools to support early childhood health. 

“Ranging from the Nurse Family Partnership Program, which provides trained nurse visits to first time pregnant moms through the child's second birthday, all the way to clinical providers who provide direct mental health treatment through local mental health authority locations,” Ball said. 


And those tools are available to anyone regardless of insurance status. But even when you remove the variable of price, sometimes there’s another limiting factor to accessibility. 

“They're unevenly distributed,” she said. “So highly populated counties, like Utah County have low program density. But then stakeholders in rural areas report hours long drive for parents and caregivers to get their children to the nearest programmer provider.”


She said another factor holding people back from getting help for their children comes from parents who are hesitant to accept suggestions or diagnoses. 

“One of the biggest challenges to providing services is helping parents, physicians, school leaders and the general population understand the importance of early childhood mental health, the critical brain development taking place during this period of time, and also the ways to identify a need for mental health services,” she said. 


Ball said there’s a silver lining though. 

“There are reports of increasing resources and training available for trauma informed approaches to care, and there's a general increased awareness of the importance of early childhood mental health,” she said. 


The Gardner institute will release the full report of their findings in the next two weeks. 


KPCW News reports on issues affecting children aged zero to 3-years-old is brought to you by the early childhood fund at the Park City Community Foundation. For more information go to earlychildhoodalliance.net.


Jessica joins KPCW as a general assignment reporter and Sunday Weekend Edition host. A Florida native, she graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in English — concentrating in film studies — and journalism. Before moving to Utah, she spent time in Atlanta, GA.
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