Disparities in Mental and Behavioral Health Treatment for Children and Youth in Immigrant Families

Acad Pediatr. 2020 Nov-Dec;20(8):1148-1156. doi: 10.1016/j.acap.2020.06.013. Epub 2020 Jun 26.


Background and objective: Children and youth in immigrant families (CIF)-children and youth with at least 1 foreign-born parent-face unique psychosocial stressors. Yet little is known about access to mental and behavioral health (MBH) services for CIF. Among US CIF and non-CIF with MBH problems, we assessed access to MBH treatment.

Methods: We used the National Survey of Children's Health-2016, a nationally representative survey of predominantly English- or Spanish-speaking US parents. The sample included 2- to 17-year-olds whose parent reported at least 1 MBH problem. The primary outcome was prior-year receipt of MBH treatment (counseling, medication, or both).

Results: Of 50,212 survey respondents, 7164 reported a current MBH problem (809 CIF and 6355 non-CIF). The majority of CIF were Hispanic/Latinx (56% CIF vs 13% non-CIF, P < .001). CIF were less likely than non-CIF to have an Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) diagnosis (35% vs 59%, P < .001) and less likely to have received MBH medication and/or counseling (61% vs 71%, P = .02). This difference was pronounced for receiving medication (32% vs 50%, P < .001). When controlling for multiple covariates, differences in any MBH treatment were no longer statistically significant (adjusted odds ratios 0.76, 95% confidence interval 0.52-1.11), while the odds of receipt of medication remained significantly lower for CIF (adjusted odds ratios 0.61, 95% confidence interval 0.42-0.88).

Conclusions: Among children and youth with at least 1 parent-reported MBH problem, CIF, compared with non-CIF, were less likely to receive MBH treatment, specifically medication. This may be explained, in part, by differences in the proportion of CIF and non-CIF diagnosed with ADHD.

Keywords: National Survey of Children's Health; children and youth in immigrant families; mental and behavioral health; treatment access.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity* / therapy
  • Behavior Therapy
  • Emigrants and Immigrants*
  • Humans
  • Parents
  • Psychiatry*
  • United States