Policy Priorities

Policy Priorities image of kids

Children's Mental Health

As part of the Children’s Defense Fund’s work to provide every child with a Healthy Start, we believe that sound mental health is essential to the health and development of children of all ages. One in ten children — one in five low-income children — are affected by mental health disorders, but fewer than a quarter receive the proper mental health care they need.

Unmet mental needs can have harmful — and expensive — long-term consequences. Children with emotional disorders are more likely to have problems in school, experience chronic absenteeism, receive poor grades, and drop out of school.

Often times it is the lack of mental health services that bring children to the attention of the child welfare system. Unmet needs can push children into the juvenile justice system. Mental health problems affect almost 70 percent of youth in the juvenile detention system.

Comprehensive health coverage must include access to mental health services. Early and comprehensive screenings for mental health disorders increase the chances that children will be properly diagnosed and receive necessary treatment. Children with serious emotional disorders also need specialized treatment to keep their problems from intensifying.