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Approach to Child Behavioral Wellness in Connecticut Focuses on Early Support

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Non-profit and state agencies have teamed up to create what's called a mid-level assessment.

Child development experts from Connecticut have created a system to help kids who have behavior problems get the help they need. The pilot program is now being rolled out in several states across the country.

The big problem is this: there are a small number of doctors who evaluate young children to see if they need any help with behavior issues or other problems. This means sometimes children have to wait months to be checked out.

"Our greatest opportunity from a societal standpoint comes from intervening when children are beginning to manifest vulnerability at young ages," said Dr. Paul Dworkin, a child health expert at Connecticut Children's Medical Center.

Dworkin said some kids often go years with no support, making them much more vulnerable to developing more severe problems later on, like mental illness, or a behavior disorder.

"Very few states -- I think the number is five nationally -- are willing to serve children who are vulnerable and at risk as opposed to  delayed and disordered," Dworkin said.

For kids with significant disabilities, waiting for an evaluation can be harmful, and can lead to intense and often expensive interventions. But kids with mild problems often don't qualify for any help, unless their problems get worse.

This has led to a trend that the new approach is trying to change. Pediatricians have often told parents to wait until their children get worse before having them evaluated, according to Lisa Honigfeld from the Child Health and Development Institute.

"We really need to stop doing that," Honigfeld said. "That's not helpful to children. That's not helpful for families."

So several non-profit and state agencies have teamed up to create what's called a mid-level assessment. It identifies kids with mild problems and connects them to community-based services, which are usually free.

Studies have suggested that early intervention can prevent the need for costly special education services down the road.

Dworkin estimates that anywhere between 20 and 30 percent of kids under three would benefit from this new approach. The concept has shown so much promise in Connecticut that 25 states have begun to do the same thing.

For more information, call 211, the information line run by the United Way of Connecticut, one of the partners that helped develop the mid-level assessment system. 

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