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June 6, 2012
Over the past 30 years, about 18,000 children have crossed the threshold at CHRIS Kids, an Atlanta nonprofit that helps Georgia’s mentally ill foster children. And so the organization’s longtime CEO Kathy Colbenson can rattle off the numbers like machine-gun fire to make her case for why more needs to be done upfront to help emotionally disturbed kids. She knows, for instance, that 35 percent of children in foster care are getting Medicaid-paid mental health services nationally; that 50 percent of children in foster care ages 6 to 11 are getting mental health services; and 60 percent of those age 12 and over are getting it. Unfortunately, Colbenson said, that help often comes much too late or not at all. “The child welfare system should be doing a trauma assessment on every child that enters care,” she said. Why? It would get kids the help they need on the front end, she said. Generally, Colbenson said, children who enter foster care have been neglected or physically or sexually abused. Add to that the fact that they are re-traumatized each time they change homes, and it’s not surprising that the children who come to CHRIS Kids have emotional problems. Even children from stable environments, however, can suffer from mental illness, said Dr. Adolph Casal, practice director of psychiatry at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. “Mental disorders in children are very common,” he said, “and we have some concern some disorders, including anxiety, bipolar disorder and autism, may be increasing in prevalence.”
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