There is widespread agreement that over 11% of our nation's children need mental health treatment, but the majority of these children receive inadequate or inappropriate treatment. This gap between what we know should be provided and what is provided is the result of a poorly structured health care financing system and a poorly coordinated treatment system. The treatment system fails to recognize that children's mental health problems are interactions between intraindividual difficulties and environmental conditions. A wealth of models of prevention and treatment have been developed, and a substantial scientific basis for children's mental health interventions now exists, but there is a shortage of community-based services and a lack of coordination across services. Public policy toward children with mental health problems must encourage application of knowledge about effective treatment systems and encourage care in the least restrictive and most cost-effective settings.
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