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Helping Young Children and Parents Access Mental Health through Medicaid

An increasing number of states are investing in the well-being and success of young children by expanding mental health services in pediatric, home, and community settings, according to a recently updated report by the National Center for Children in Poverty.

The report, Using Medicaid to Help Young Children and Parents Access Mental Health Servicesm examines states’ use of Medicaid as a key source of funding for early childhood mental health (ECMH) services. It presents the results of a 50-state survey that gathered information from state administrators about Medicaid coverage of a number of services for children from birth to age 6, including:

  • Child screening for social-emotional problems
  • Maternal depression screening in pediatric and family medicine settings
  • Mental health services in a pediatric or family medicine setting
  • Mental health services in child care and early education settings
  • Mental health services in the home setting
  • Dyadic (parent-child) treatment
  • Parenting programs to address child mental health needs; and
  • Case management/care coordination.

Using Medicaid to Help Young Children and Parents (now with enhanced maps) provides information about key early childhood mental health services states are covering with Medicaid, including dyadic treatment; mental health services for children in home visits; parenting programs; and ECMH services in pediatric settings. The report also offers information about requirements concerning the use of evidence-based models and other features of coverage.

Even as some states have recently expanded Medicaid coverage for key mental health services that benefit young children, current federal proposals for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act pose a grave threat to these services. As our colleagues, Elisabeth Wright Burak at the Georgetown Institute Health Policy Institute Center for Children and Families and Stephanie Schmit at CLASP, explain in Top Five Ways ACA Repeal and Medicaid Financing Changes Would Harm our Youngest Children, these proposals would leave many low-income families without any health care coverage, and reduce the important health benefits currently provided under Medicaid to children.

Some strategies for improving mental health policies for young children in your state include:

  • Learn about the child and parent mental health services that Medicaid covers in your state,
  • Work to ensure strong implementation of existing coverage, and
  • Advocate for coverage of key services that could be covered, but currently are not (such as parenting programs that address mental health problems and services for children who are “at-risk” but lack a diagnosis).
  • Speak up to ensure that services related to young children’s mental health and parent depression are among the essential services that must be preserved in federal and state health care policies.

For technical assistance or questions related to these issues and the report, please feel free to reach out to us at

Sheila Smith, Director, Early Childhood
National Center for Children in Poverty
(March 8, 2017)

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