Children are falling behind. Can we fix it?

There are days when I feel fortunate that I spent more than two decades in the psychiatric profession working with children and adolescents than there are days when I feel fortunate that I practice in the profession as a licensed professional counselor. While some work is as rewarding as others, I am always struck by the broad range of problems encountered by people around the world and the joy a child can bring to a parent.

A new paper by the Center for Community Solutions and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published in Pediatrics looks at the very real, ongoing health issues affecting many children. The study, entitled Pediatric Inadequacy: A Global Report finds that many children are unhappy, fall behind peers, not safe, have high anxiety levels, and are at risk for multiple health problems.

The authors review thirty-four of the sixty-two data sources used in their survey. They found that mothers are concerned with their children’s well-being due to body image issues, behavioral issues, attendance struggles, and problems with academics.

The authors of the study have pointed out that growing global economies have led to a huge amount of migration among populations living in poverty. Therefore, it is imperative that countries focus on developing strategies to provide health care to children and adults living in urban areas.

The authors note that the findings of the report do not constitute a conclusion that these conditions are a health epidemic, rather it is based on statistics that indicate that children and adolescents are feeling unhappy and falling behind peers in areas including their school performance, friendships, social status, and fitness. This has a negative effect on their psychological health, productivity at work, and socio-economic indicators in terms of their community. In addition, these deficits exacerbate the pressures on parents who are often working far too many hours, often living in poor conditions, and dealing with unrealistic expectations about children’s future prospects.

I applaud the efforts of the physicians and public health experts that have published this report and may do a great deal to encourage parents and educators around the world to focus on ways to improve children’s well-being. The data in the report do suggest that access to health care must improve. Data collected in the United States show that in 2015 over 51% of children receive coverage through Medicaid and other government health programs. That number should not be underestimated and could be much higher but continues to be the most prevalent form of coverage for children.

Some experts have pointed out that the report places greater emphasis on mental health problems than there is evidence that many children’s mental health concerns are related to their environments and experiences.

I am mindful that mental health services and medication exist for some children who have special needs but there are others who need additional care in this area who struggle as much as children that the report does. Maintaining the connections between mental health, academics, parenting, and the community in which they reside is essential to their health and social development.

I am hopeful that the authors of the new report will use this opportunity to highlight issues with healthcare systems throughout the world and encourage their change to better meet the needs of children and adults. The study highlights how continuing limitations in healthcare pose a significant risk for development both inside and outside the hospital setting.

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