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Services for Children, Youth and Young Adults with Serious Emotional Disturbances

The DHS Office of Behavioral Health, Bureau of Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, Children's Team produced a handbook, Taking Charge of Your Child’s Mental Health: A Parent’s Guide, for parents of children who may be showing symptoms of serious emotional disturbances. The information below is an abbreviated version of  the guide with links to selected pages. The full text of the guide is available by clicking on this link pdf.gif Taking Charge of Your Child’s Mental Health: A Parent’s Guide.

NOTE: Parents who are concerned that their child is showing symptoms of an Autism Spectrum Disorder may find more information on the Autism page of the DHS website.

NOTE: Parents who are concerned that their child may have a developmental delay may find more information on the Developmental Disabilities page of the DHS website.  

If you suspect that your son or daughter has a mental health problem…
  • Be attentive to pdf.gif his or her symptoms and behaviors.
  • Keep a record of his or her symptoms and behaviors and any details that may be helpful about what happened before or after the behaviors.
  • Take this information, along with pdf.gif other important documents, to a professional when you go to have your child’s symptoms evaluated.

You will need to have your (child’s) symptoms evaluated by a professional. 

Families can choose from a wide variety of options to have a child’s mental health evaluated and/or treated. Where you start is often a matter of personal preference, insurance coverage, existing relationships you may have with a family doctor or other professional, or the severity of your child’s symptoms. pdf.gif Lack of private insurance coverage will not be a barrier to having your child receive treatment for a severe emotional disturbance.

The starting points into the child and adolescent mental health system include:

  • Your family doctor or pediatrician
  • Neurologist
  • Psychiatrist
  • Psychologist
  • School guidance counselor
  • Clergy
  • Service coordination units
  • Crisis services

More information on each of these pdf.gif starting points for services.  

Referral, Evaluation, and Treatment  

Once a referral is made to a mental health professional, it may take several visits and a number of assessments and tests for the doctor or therapist to decide on a “working diagnosis” for your child. An accurate diagnosis, in combination with other factors, is vital to your child’s well being, because this will determine the best treatment options.

The appropriate level of care for your child may depend on his/her diagnosis, severity of symptoms, family preference, and treatment history. pdf.gif Treatment options for children with mental health problems may range from outpatient therapy (least restrictive) to inpatient hospitalization (most restrictive) depending on the level of care needed. More information on the entire pdf.gif continuum of treatment services available for children and adolescents.  

There are several types of pdf.gif supportive services for children and adolescents with mental health problems that include:

  • Student Assistance Programs
  • Crisis Services
  • Joint Planning Teams
  • Blended Service Coordination
  • Administrative Service Coordination

Children and adolescents could be in multiple treatment and supportive services while in transition throughout the continuum of care.

The DHS Office of Behavioral Health pdf.gif Where to Call booklet has additional information about providers of supports and services.
A special pdf.gif Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services resource guide is also available.

Children, Mental Health, and the Law 

If your child is under the age of 14 years, you must give your permission for him or her to receive mental health treatment. If your child is 14 years of age or older, he or she has the legal right to make decisions about receiving care. He/She must agree to mental health treatment and may obtain mental health treatment without your permission.  

If a person 14 years of age or older is severely mentally disabled* and in need of immediate treatment for a mental health problem, but will not seek it voluntarily, the law allows for his/her involuntary treatment, according to The Mental Health Procedures Act of 1976.

* From the Mental Health Procedures Act: “A person is severely mentally disabled when their capacity to exercise self control, judgment and discretion in the conduct of their affairs and social relations or to care for their own personal needs is so lessened that they pose a clear and present danger to others or themselves.” 

Related Websites 

Anti-stigma resources
Includes links to documents designed to forward recovery and to help young children understand their feelings.  

Stop Bullying Now!
Gives kids and parents helpful ideas about how to "take a stand and lend a hand" to stop bullying now!

Early Intervention
Provides assessment, supports and services to children up to three years of age who have a developmental delay or are at risk for developmental delay.

World Wide Web Icon Making Health Choices: A Guide on Physchotropic Medications for Youth in Foster Care
Written specifically for youth in foster care, this guide looks at the options available for the treatment of mental health concerns, and the alternatives to psychotropic medications. También está disponible en español.

Recovery-related materials
Includes links to documents and websites that support positive life experiences for persons with mental illness or substance use disorders.

Strength of Us 
StrengthofUs.org is NAMI's social networking site and on-line resource center specifically geared toward young adults who are living with mental health conditions.