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Are Mass. children getting the behavioral and mental health care they need?

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Six years after the state launched an unprecedented effort to address the mental and developmental needs in young children, doctors in Massachusetts are screening more children for behavioral health concerns than in any other state.

Nearly 7 in 10 Massachusetts children under age 6 in low-income families were screened in 2011 and 2012—more than twice the rate of screening in the United States as a whole, according to data released this month by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center as part of the national Kids Count report. But, has the success of pediatric screening led to better behavioral health care in the state? That’s a question researchers and physicians say they can’t yet answer.

As many as 1 in 5 children experience some sort of mental illness or developmental disorder in a given year, though a smaller number are seriously impaired by their condition. In 2012, about 7.5 percent of screening checklists identified a behavioral health need among children on Medicaid, according to state data.

Certainly doctors and families can’t address a child’s condition if they don’t know about it. But getting the children who are flagged by the screenings connected to the care they need remains a major challenge.

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