Improving access to mental health care for children: the Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Project

Pediatrics. 2010 Dec;126(6):1191-200. doi: 10.1542/peds.2009-1340. Epub 2010 Nov 8.


Background: Inadequate access to care for mentally ill children and their families is a persistent problem in the United States. Although promotion of pediatric primary care clinicians (PCCs) in detection, management, and coordination of child mental health care is a strategy for improving access, limitations in training, time, and specialist availability represent substantial barriers. The Massachusetts Child Psychiatry Access Project (MCPAP), publicly funded with 6 regional consultation teams, provides Massachusetts PCCs with rapid access to child psychiatry expertise, education, and referral assistance.

Methods: Data collected from MCPAP teams measured participation and utilization over 3.5 years from July 1, 2005, to December 31, 2008. Data were analyzed for 35,335 encounters. PCC surveys assessed satisfaction and impact on access to care.

Results: The MCPAP enrolled 1341 PCCs in 353 practices covering 95% of the youth in Massachusetts. The MCPAP served 10,114 children. Practices varied in their utilization of the MCPAP, with a mean of 12 encounters per practice per quarter (range: 0-245). PCCs contacted the MCPAP for diagnostic questions (34%), identifying community resources (27%), and consultation regarding medication (27%). Provider surveys revealed improvement in ratings of access to child psychiatry. The rate of PCCs who reported that they are usually able to meet the needs of psychiatric patients increased from 8% to 63%. Consultations were reported to be helpful by 91% of PCCs.

Conclusions: PCCs have used and value a statewide system that provides access to teams of psychiatric consultants. Access to child mental health care may be substantially improved through public health interventions that promote collaboration between PCCs and child mental health specialists.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Psychiatry / standards
  • Child Psychiatry / trends*
  • Health Services Accessibility / organization & administration*
  • Humans
  • Mental Health Services / standards
  • Mental Health Services / trends*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States