andrea spencer

NEWS RELEASE: “Clear Link between Unaddressed Mental Health Issues, School Suspensions and Expulsions, and Juvenile Incarceration”



Center for Children’s Advocacy

September 13, 2012

New research published by Center for Children’s Advocacy

Clear Link between Unaddressed Mental Health Issues, School Suspensions and Expulsions, and Juvenile Incarceration

Early Identification of Children’s Mental and Behavioral Health Issues Critical to Academic Success

Educational records of children referred to the Center for Children’s Advocacy, a Connecticut nonprofit that provides legal support for abused and neglected children, reveal that early warning signs of mental and behavioral health problems are often not identified until middle school years.

With a grant from the Connecticut Health Foundation, Dr. Andrea Spencer, dean of the School of Education at Pace University and educational consultant to the Center for Children’s Advocacy, examined children’s educational records to identify how early these warning signs appear.

“Red flags for mental and behavioral health problems are often clear before the end of second grade,” said Dr. Spencer. “It is imperative that we improve screening and identification so support for these children can be provided before their academic careers are at risk.”

Over 70% of students diagnosed with mental illness and behavioral health problems by middle school exhibited warning signs by second grade. Almost 25% exhibited red flags during pre-Kindergarten years. These red flags included developmental and health issues, adverse social factors and exposure to trauma. Twenty five percent of the children studied had documented traumatic experiences in their records.

The Center for Children’s Advocacy released the report, entitled “Blind Spot,” available on the Center’s website at The report recommends implementation of initiatives to avert academic failures:

• Improve screening for mental health risk factors

• Improve referral to early intervention services (mental health and special education)

• Improve collaboration between service providers

• Improve community and parent education about risk factors and support available

• Improve training and accountability for school staff and other providers

The report documents the direct link between undiagnosed and unaddressed mental health issues with

increases in school suspensions, expulsions and entry into the state’s juvenile justice system.

Systemic change is critical to improving the odds for children living in poverty.

Federal Medicaid Law requires pediatric providers to conduct mental health screenings during well-care visits to identify children who are at risk for mental health and behavioral abnormalities. However, most pediatric providers do not conduct even the most basic mental health screenings because they do not receive reimbursement.

As a result of this report, the Center for Children’s Advocacy introduced a statewide policy initiative to improve the quality and standard of care for children insured through the Connecticut’s Medicaid (HUSKY A) plan.

“This initiative will create a system of reimbursement that encourages pediatric providers to include mental health screening as part of children’s annual well-care visits,” said Jay Sicklick, Director of the Center’s Medical-Legal Partnership. “Early identification is critical to support these children and avoid future educational and juvenile justice issues.”

The Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS) has agreed to convene a task force that includes representatives from the Center for Children’s Advocacy, Department of Children and Families, Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services, Office of Policy and Management, Value Options (contracted provider of mental health services under HUSKY/ Medicaid), American Academy of Pediatrics (CT Chapter), Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatrists (CT Chapter), Head Start, developmental pediatricians, Birth to Three Program, Department of Education, and the Connecticut Health Development Institute.

The task force will review current regulations, make recommendations regarding screening and treatment protocols, and provide recommendations on reimbursement rates for pediatric providers.

“The Connecticut Health Foundation is a proud supporter of strong leaders like the Center for Children’s Advocacy. Their work with children in underserved communities helps inform our work surrounding racial and ethnic health disparities,” said Foundation President Patricia Baker. “There is a clear link between mental health issues and juvenile incarceration. Early identification will enable us to reduce the effects of environmental and social stressors that cause poor mental health outcomes. This focus on early identification and provision of medical and mental health support is aimed at increasing long-term academic success for underserved and disadvantaged children in our communities.”


Bonnie Berk

Director, Communications

Center for Children’s Advocacy



Bill Caldwell

Manager of Media Relations

Pace University



Maryland Grier

Sr. Communications Officer

Connecticut Health Foundation




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