How’s Mass. Doing On Children’s Mental Health? Um, We Don’t Know

Massachusetts flunks on children's mental health

From the report “Measuring Children’s Mental Health Care: What Massachusetts Needs To Do To Raise The Grade,” by the Children’s Mental Health Campaign

The school year is just beginning, but the state has already been slapped with a “Needs Improvement” on a critical aspect of children’s mental health care. It got a great big fat F for its efforts — or rather, the lack thereof — to collect data on what’s being done in children’s care and the outcomes it brings.

Massachusetts leads on many health issues, but gathers so little data on children’s mental health care that the Children’s Mental Health Campaign coalition found it simply couldn’t issue a report card on an array of aspects of children’s care as it had planned.

‘While we are measuring outcomes for physical health care, we are not doing so for mental health care.’

Instead, it is calling attention to the lack of data and its attendant problems. Actually, it issued not so much an F as an Incomplete — something like “No grade is possible when you have turned in no papers and taken no tests.”

The full report, is here, including the many sorts of needed data that are missing. They include waiting times to see a child psychiatrist, denials of care, and the per capita spending on children’s mental health care. From the press release:

Children with mental disorders are found in every school and in every community. Public and private insurers are expending a billion dollars a year in providing mental health services for Massachusetts children and youth. However, while we are measuring outcomes for physical health care, we are not doing so for mental health care. No one knows whether our children are actually getting the care they need to get better.

The Children’s Mental Health Campaign released a new report today, “Measuring Children’s Mental Health Care: What Massachusetts Needs to Do to Raise the Grade,” and it is a sobering document. When the Campaign began this project, we intended to produce a “report card” that graded the state as a whole, including both its public and private sectors, on key system indicators such as service availability, access, integration of care, and outcomes. However, as we examined the available data, we found a lack of comprehensive, standardized and validated performance measures that would allow for objective comparison over time. We decided that it would be unfair to issue grades based on data of such uneven quality and scope. The only area the Campaign could grade with confidence was the Commonwealth’s capacity to evaluate its child mental health services, and in that area, the Commonwealth failed.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Billy Rubin

    Couldn’t help but note a news piece in the New York Times that covers a different topic but gets at the same issue of monitoring (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/04/health/use-of-antibiotics-in-animals-raised-for-food-defies-scrutiny.html?hpw).

    In this case, the issue is antibiotic use in agribusiness, but the root problem is still the same: the ability of a society to monitor itself to know what things have real-world benefits and what things don’t. For the most part, governments are needed to sponsor these studies (sometimes via academic institutions, sometimes directly through government agencies); without them, we’re lost and potentially wasting money while simultaneously doing ourselves harm.

    Sorry to be overtly political, but the story here seems to be in part that the Commonwealth doesn’t have the resources to know if it is allocating its resources properly. With the current mania that only private industry is capable of anything in full force, problems like this are going to get much worse in the short run.