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OSU Researchers to Assess Youth Mental Health Service Access

Thursday, June 2, 2005

Human development and family science researchers at Oklahoma State University’s Stillwater campus will begin administering surveys in Tulsa households this month as part of an endeavor to improve the delivery of children’s mental health services.

Galvanized by the preponderance of juvenile wards of the criminal justice system who exhibited early signs of antisocial behavior but received no treatment and the system’s repeat failings of youthful offenders, social scientists are exploring ways to more effectively address mental health and behavioral issues during early childhood.

According to Department of Human Services’ estimates, as many as two-thirds of children who need mental health services and assistance in Oklahoma aren’t getting them. OSU’s study, funded by a $125,000-grant from the Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation, seeks to determine why.

“It is estimated that as many as one in five children could use or need mental health services, and around 13 percent of children have serious emotional disturbances,” said Glade Topham, assistant professor of human development and family science in OSU’s College of Human Environmental Sciences.

“We know that children who exhibit a variety of problems – oppositional behavior, acting out, conduct disorders, stealing things, unresponsiveness to authority – who go untreated will go on to have much greater problems in adolescents and adulthood,” Topham said. “Many will develop antisocial behaviors and end up in the criminal justice system.”

“Our motivation is based on the idea that we need to get children into treatment early to prevent greater problems down the line,” he said.

The project is focused on uncovering barriers to help-seeking. Because service needs tend to be greatest among underserved populations, information gathering for the study will be concentrated in disadvantaged areas of Tulsa. The researchers will begin polling residents in the coming weeks.

“Our interviewers will be going into homes and spending about an hour with parents,” Topham said. “Most of the discussion will be in reference to the things that might hinder parents from getting help for their children, from transportation difficulty and cost of services to social stigmas and the parents’ perceptions of different types of treatments and their effectiveness.”

The researchers will develop a comprehensive report to share with several groups.

“We’ll be presenting our results to the Zarrow Foundation to help them determine where they might focus their resources in the future,” Topham said. “A broad range of service providers in Tulsa – residential care, outpatient facilities, parent education centers – also should have an interest in these results.

“We also hope and believe policy makers would be interested in better understanding these issues so they can appropriately direct resources and policy toward making treatment more accessible to the families that need it the most.”

In addition to Topham, the project involves three other members of OSU’s Human Development and Family Science department including associate professor and head Kathleen Briggs, associate professor Charles Hendrix and professor David Fournier, who is assisting as consultant. The research team also features four graduate students.

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