Children and Adolescents’ Rising Behavioral Health Needs

Sarah Rafton, MSW
Executive Director, WCAAP

In my five years at WCAAP, I have heard from members in every corner of the state that kids’ access to timely behavioral health care is one of the most pressing and urgent child health needs you witness. Over the past several years, we have consistently learned — directly from community pediatric providers, ED providers, hospitalists and critical care doctors, from our member surveys, and from our “secret shopper” evaluation of access — that kids are waiting far too long to get the help they need.

Unfortunately, now the pandemic is taking the largest emotional toll on children and adolescents, as evidenced by recent data from the CDC. We wanted to be sure you could see this alarming data, and we know that ED use and suicidality are only the tip of the iceberg – that there is a population of children and youth suffering from increased behavioral health needs today, most of whom are likely going without care. Tragically, as Developments was prepared for dissemination today, we learned that four people under the age of 18 died by suicide in King County during the month of October, as reported to Public Health; Public Health reports these suicides appear to be unrelated to one another and are an increase from recent months and from October 2019.

We need you:

Please join our COVID Community Pediatrics call on November 17th  to hear from the Department of Health about trends and learn resources to support children, youth and families.

We will continue to fight for improved access to behavioral health in the 2021 legislative session, but we need your stories and voices to inform our advocacy. Please complete this 10-minute survey by Tuesday, November 10th to help us illustrate the current state of pediatric behavioral health access in primary care. We will use survey results in our advocacy.

What is WCAAP doing?

WCAAP’s child health improvement partnership, WA-CHIP, has a school-aged steering committee, Champions for Youth, of state leaders from the Health Care Authority, Department of Health, OSPI and providers and stakeholders. Our state agency and primary care partners are meeting now to generate immediate and meaningful ways we can collectively help children and youth who are struggling today. If your clinic or hospital has a current strategy you think we should know about, please do not hesitate to contact me directly.

WCAAP is also working with Collective Medical Technologies, a vendor that has statewide Emergency Department data to track kids’ use of emergency departments for behavioral health over time, to demonstrate the consistently growing unmet needs, and assess if Washington State trends match CDC findings of kids’ behavioral health during the pandemic.

In addition to current WCAAP member meetings with legislators and the advocating we will do in the 2021 session, WCAAP is also advocating with the Health Care Authority for increased resources for outreach and care coordination that children and families so desperately need. We will keep our members apprised of concrete and meaningful ways we can advance kids’ access to care in the near-term, while we continue to advocate for long-term solutions and investments.

Where can I turn?

Thank you for all you are doing for children and youth. Our staff and physician leadership will continue to do all we can to support you in your work on the front lines.