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Health Center launches broad mental health initiative for kids

by Kristina Goodnough - December 4, 2006

The Health Center is embarking on an ambitious initiative to bolster services to children and adolescents with mental health problems.

It has established a new Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, expanded its clinical services for youngsters and their families, and established a new residency program to train medical students in the field.

"Our goal is to begin to help close the gap between the tremendous need and the available resources for mentally disabled youngsters and their families," says Dr. Daniel Connor.

Connor is the first holder of the Lockean Distinguished Chair in Mental Health Education, Research, and Clinical Improvement, which was established earlier this year with an anonymous gift of $2 million.

He points out that nationally between 10 percent and 20 percent of the children in this country suffer from a mental health disorder that impairs their daily functioning, yet only about 5 percent to 10 percent of children in need receive any mental health evaluation or intervention.

To provide additional clinical services, the Health Center has established a new child and adolescent psychiatry program at its Health Partners office in West Hartford.

It is staffed with two child psychiatrists and two child psychologists.

"There has been a paucity of clinical services for children and adolescents in the region," Connor says.

"Our clinic will serve as a referral center for pediatricians and for schools that want to get evaluations for youngsters with behavioral health problems."

The Health Center has also established a psychiatric clinic at the Manson Youth Institute for adolescent offenders.

"There has been growing recognition of the need for mental health services for this population," says Connor.

"We are providing care to about 170 of the roughly 700 offenders there."

The Health Center has also established a consultation service with Riverview Hospital for Children and Youth, the state's 100-bed psychiatric hospital administered by the Department of Children and Families that provides court-ordered psychiatric evaluations and hospital care to severely emotionally disturbed children between the ages of 5 and 17.

To increase the number of health care providers in this field, the Health Center has established a new residency program to train physicians in child and adolescent psychiatry, and it has received three-year accreditation from the American Council of Graduate Medical Education.

The first medical residents will enroll in the program this fall.

"Like other states in the country, Connecticut has a shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists," says Connor.

"The shortage creates long waiting lists for available physicians and other serious barriers to care."

The National Institutes of Health estimate the country will need 12,000 child and adolescent psychiatrists by 2011, and currently there are about 6,500.

Meanwhile, according to the American Medical Association, the number of child and adolescent psychiatry residency programs decreased from 130 in 1980 to 114 in 2002.

The Health Center will also offer a fourth-year elective in child and adolescent psychiatry for medical students who want to go into pediatrics or family medicine.

The elective will give them direct, hands-on observational experience in the field.

Says Connor, "The establishment of an endowed chair in child and adolescent psychiatry signals that the Health Center realizes the need for services and is committed to helping provide them."

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