Rates of Mental Health Service Utilization by Children and Adolescents in Schools and Other Common Service Settings: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis

Adm Policy Ment Health. 2021 May;48(3):420-439. doi: 10.1007/s10488-020-01080-9. Epub 2020 Sep 17.


A meta-analysis was conducted to examine the relative rates of youth mental health service utilization across settings among the general population and among those with elevated mental health symptoms or clinical diagnoses. Rates of school-based mental health were compared to outpatient, primary care, child welfare, juvenile justice, and inpatient. Nine studies presented rates of mental health service use for general-population youth in the U.S., and 14 studies presented rates for youth with elevated symptoms or clinical diagnoses. Random effects meta-analysis was used to calculate mean proportions of youth receiving care in each sector. Of general population youth, 7.28% received school mental health services. Rates for other sectors are as follows: 7.26% in outpatient settings, 1.76% in primary care, 1.80% in inpatient, 1.35% in child welfare, and 0.90% juvenile justice. For youth with elevated mental health symptoms or diagnoses, 22.10% of youth were served by school-based mental health services, 20.56% outpatient settings, 9.93% primary care, 9.05% inpatient, 7.90% child welfare, and 4.50% juvenile justice. Schools and outpatient settings are the most common loci of mental health care for both the general population and samples of youth with elevated symptoms or clinical diagnoses, although substantial amounts of care are also provided in a range of other settings. Results hold potential for informing resource allocation, legislation and policy, intervention development, and research. Given that mental health services are delivered across many settings, findings also point to the need for interconnection across child-serving sectors, particularly schools and outpatient clinics.

Keywords: Children and youth; Mental health services; Meta-analysis; Services utilization.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Welfare
  • Humans
  • Mental Disorders* / epidemiology
  • Mental Disorders* / therapy
  • Mental Health Services*
  • Primary Health Care
  • Schools