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Mental Health Care For Kids Severely Lacking, Says GAO

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Hot off the presses, here's a report from the Government Accountability Office on the state of children's mental health care. It reveals some major problems.

"Most children whose emotions or behavior, as reported by their parent or guardian, indicated a potential need for a mental health service did not receive any services within the same year," the GAO wrote.

The report comes after Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (Calif.) requested that the GAO look into how psychotropic drugs affect the long-term development of kids who grow up in foster care. While the report is very specific in its scope, it's sure to be a relevant piece of evidence as the Obama administration formulates policy to deal with the ramifications of the Newtown, Conn. elementary school shooting. The shooting has sparked a nationwide debate on gun control, but it has also directed America's attention to the state of its mental health care system.

Here are some findings:

  • On average, 6.2 percent of noninstitutionalized children in Medicaid and 4.8 percent of privately insured kids received psychotropic medications.
  • 30 percent of foster children who might have required mental health care didn't receive them over the last year.
  • Most kids outside the foster care system whose behavior displayed red flags didn't receive mental care services.
  • Many kids who got psychotropic medication didn't get counseling or therapy to complete the care.
  • While the National Institutes of Health spent1.2 billion on children's mental health care research between 2008 and 2011, most of the funding focused on research studying therapy, rather than the effects of such medication.

To Harkin, the results were alarming. "I am concerned about the GAO's finding about the high rate of prescriptions for psychotropic drugs- especially for children in the foster care system, while access to therapy and counseling is still inadequate," Harkin, who chairs the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, said in a statement. "I will continue to work to advance children's mental health research and services, so that our kids can receive safe and appropriate care and treatment."

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