We are in the midst of chaotic times: from dramatic increases in drug overdose deaths to school shootings to contentious public discussions of sexual assault. Although we are sometimes able to shield our children from witnessing or experiencing traumatic events, it is not always possible. These and other types of trauma, also known as adverse childhood experiences, can have life-long impacts on a child’s physical, mental and behavioral health. We know that trauma is quite common with more than two-thirds of youth age sixteen and younger reporting at least one traumatic experience. While every demographic has a large prevalence of trauma, data show children of color experience more traumatic events than their white peers. We also know that these adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can have intergenerational impacts. Recent research shows that when a parent has had a higher number of adverse childhood experiences, it is more likely that their child will have poor overall health.

Experiencing trauma can negatively affect mental health at any stage of life from early childhood to adolescence and into adulthood. Research studies estimate that approximately one in five children experience a mental health issue during any given year. We also know that half of all mental health issues begin by age 14 and three-quarters occur by 24 years. Additionally, parents—both mothers and fathers—may experience mental health challenges when a new baby arrives and they may reoccur when additional children are added to the family. This ongoing influence of adverse experiences on the health of each member of the family creates an opportunity to interrupt the intergenerational impact of trauma. Given that trauma affects the mental health of the whole family, we have a real opportunity to focus on preventing long-term negative impacts and responding to ongoing adversity. The unfortunate backdrop behind the prevalence of trauma and its influence on mental health is an ongoing shortage of mental health providers of all types. This shortage is particularly longstanding and severe for child psychiatrists.

One way to address these provider shortages is through child psychiatry access programs (CPAPs) or similar programs dedicated to addressing maternal mental health. These programs provide primary care providers like pediatricians, obstetrician-gynecologists, nurse practitioners or others direct access to specialists in psychiatry. The programs usually offer primary care providers with consultations on diagnosis and treatment, care coordination for their patients and further training for the provider and their staff. This helps improve the capacity of primary care providers to address mental health issues but obviously does not fully eliminate the need for additional mental and behavioral health providers.

Last week, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) announced grant awards for funding to support states that are establishing or strengthening these types of child and maternal mental health programs. HRSA will distribute just under $8 million to 18 states for child-focused programs while approximately $4.5 million will go to seven states for maternal mental health programs. This infusion of funding gives advocates a chance to influence the development and improvement of these programs. To find out whether your state currently has a child psychiatry access program visit the National Network of Child Psychiatry Access Programs and see HRSA’s press release to determine whether your state received funding.

Finally, stay tuned for future Community Catalyst resources on this topic. We will be diving into how these programs work and how to ensure they are providing high quality and effective services for children and their families.