The pandemic has underscored the urgent need to incorporate emotional and behavioral health as a practice of preventative well care. The stress experienced by children and adolescents can vary by age and context. For example, a 2021 Wisconsin Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicated that more than half of high school students reported feeling very anxious. While anxiety went up since the pandemic began, COVID was not the main cause of student stress. It was often related to school issues, isolation, relationships and/or family hardship.

As stressors change over time, parents, caregivers, and other supportive adults are increasingly struggling to cope and be emotionally available for their children.

For children with special health care needs such as those with autism, ADHD, and/or those with pre-existing mental health disorders, these children were found to be more vulnerable to the disruptions of routines. They are more dependent on resources and support that was interrupted during the pandemic.

Pediatricians, professionals, families and agencies must work together to support the emotional and behavioral health concerns of infants, children, adolescents and families. Having processes in place to identify mental and behavioral health concerns early, along with building connections to resources, can create support that families need.

Children’s Health Alliance of Wisconsin’s (the Alliance) medical home initiative and Wisconsin Child Psychiatry Consultation Program (WI CPCP) teams work together to support primary care providers (PCPs) with screening tools and resources. Training is focused on implementation of the ASQ:SE-2 and PSC-17 screening tools. Consultative support, resource linkage and education are provided by the WI CPCP for participating pediatric PCPs who are managing mental health issues.

This approach ensures that primary care clinicians have the tools to screen and the resources to support families when concerns are identified. One clinical partner from Racine shared their experience:

“Without the support of WI CPCP, there would be a delay in recognition of anxiety and depression and initiation of treatment with SSRIs for many patients in our clinic. Prior to WI CPCP we had not screened as aggressively because it was a challenge to assist those we identified as having a positive screen. WI CPCP has given us the necessary tools and support to help all positive screens and we thus have been able to comply with all best practice and PRN screening for mental health in adolescents.”

For more information regarding the Wisconsin medical home initiative and mental health screening trainings, visit our website. For information regarding the WI CPCP and to become an enrolled provider, click here.