Comprehensive Children’s Mental Health Indicators

It’s a wonderful thing when you find a paper that proactively answers your specific research question!

Creating Comprehensive Children’s Mental Health Indicators for British Columbia is a paper like that.

Our Question

What data sources are available and what criteria should we use to select comprehensive indicators to track the mental health of young people in the capital region over time?

This Paper Answers:

The Data Sources used to select indicators for this study can be found on pages 16-18 and the indicators on pages 19-22.

But the whole paper is worth a read. Or two.

Here’s just a little of what this paper offers:

“Mental health—or social and emotional well-being—is fundamental to human development and essential for all children to flourish. Yet at any given time, an estimated 14% of children (or 800,000 in Canada) experience mental disorders causing significant symptoms and impairment, exacerbating matters, clinical treatment services still reach fewer than 25% of these children despite substantial public investments in health care. Meanwhile, there are almost no investments in programs that could address determinants and prevent problems. Consequently, mental disorders unnecessarily persist throughout the lifespan, with adverse outcomes ranging from reduced educational and occupational chances to increased mortality. The associated economic burden is now estimated to exceed $51 billion in Canada annually, urgently underscoring the need to better address mental health starting in childhood. To address children’s mental health adequately, a new comprehensive population health approach is needed—promoting healthy development for all children and preventing disorders in children at risk, in addition to providing effective treatment for children with established problems and disorders.”

“Canada urgently requires a population health approach to children’s mental health—promoting health and preventing disorders, in addition to providing treatment. Underpinning this approach, indicators could enable population monitoring, thereby informing ongoing public investments.”

“Strategically, monitoring could also raise public awareness about the importance of children’s mental health—understanding that ‘what gets counted, counts.'”

“A population health approach for children’s mental health—promoting health and preventing disorders, in addition to providing treatment—requires a correspondingly broad framework encompassing concepts central to the social and emotional well-being of the entire population of children. Therefore we propose a comprehensive framework that covers: major developmental stages; determinants and contexts; mental health status and related developmental domains; and a wide range of intervention approaches.”

Population Health Framework for Children's Mental Health
Gratitude to Charlotte Waddell, Cody A. Shepherd, and Alice Chen from Simon Fraser and Michael H. Boyle from McMaster for all the work that went into this project and for reporting the results so we could learn from them.

Shared Measurement

One of the next big tasks for the Child & Youth Health Network is creating a shared measurement system.The following is an excerpt from an article published by the US-based childtrends.org and addresses some of the challenges to establishing a shared measurement system. Find the original article here.

Linking Data

The barriers to linking data across multiple electronic storage systems are rarely technical, it turns out; instead, they tend to reflect traditional issues of turf, leadership, and organizational culture.

Data linked across multiple systems has long been heralded as an obvious extension of the digital information age. Connecting the data silos, so the thinking goes, is essential for gaining a better understanding of how well people are served by various public systems (schools, child care, income/work support, and so on).

To fully realize the potential of indicator data to drive change in practice (and outcomes) often requires bringing together information from multiple sources and platforms, and across traditional administrative boundaries. This is certainly not a new idea, yet several recent reports shed light on some of the challenges that still stand in the way of data integration.

An example: School & Community Data

The interface between school data and a variety of other community data on child well-being has become another familiar ground for data linking/integration efforts. The growth in place-based initiatives, such as Promise Neighborhoods and the Strive Network, has provided added impetus to this work, but also made some persistent areas of difficulty more prominent.

Into this space, a recent report from Strive Together and the Data Quality Campaign casts some helpful light. In Data Drives School-Community Collaboration: Seven Principles for Effective Data Sharing, the authors identify some essential lessons, and debunk a few common myths.

A sampling:

  • “Decision-makers, not data people, get information moving—and they do it when it’s in their own best interest.”
  • “The first rule of data systems is to never begin by talking about data systems.”
  • “One good question is worth a dozen data points.”
  • “Data stewardship needs to be part of [school] districts’ and partners’ organizational DNA.”
  • “When it is in the students’ best interest, very little legitimate data-sharing between schools and communities is prohibited by FERPA [the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] or the array of state and federal laws that extend it.”