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Children's Mental Health Care Uneven in U.S. , Says Study

Mental health services for children across the United States are spotty at best, due to a patchwork of state approaches in which the most effective services are not necessarily the ones funded, according to a new study by the National Center for Children in Poverty called "Unclaimed Children Revisited." The results of the study were unveiled at the 24th annual Rosalynn Carter Symposium on Mental Health Policy in November 2008.

Researchers examined progress made in children's mental health care in the last 25 years, following the original "Unclaimed Children" report. In the early 1980s only half of states even differentiated between adults and pediatric patients, with many children and adolescents placed on adult wards in psychiatric hospitals. Although there have been improvements since then, today nearly one-quarter of all states say there is no group of children with mental illnesses whom they serve well.

"The findings from this study reveal that despite the considerable advances in knowledge about the prevention, diagnoses, and treatment of mental health conditions in children, we still have much work to do," said former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, founder of the Carter Center's Mental Health Program.

More than 200 leading mental health experts and advocates convened at the symposium to discuss the report's findings and develop strategies that could be implemented in their local communities.

"If we can change things for children, we will end up changing things for everybody," said Children's Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman in her keynote address at the symposium.

Since 1985, the annual symposia have brought together national leaders in mental health to focus and coordinate their efforts on an issue of common concern, examining such issues as mental illness and the elderly, treating mental illness in the primary care setting, and stigma.

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