Unmet Mental Health Need and Access to Services for Children With Special Health Care Needs and Their Families

Moira Inkelas, Ramesh Raghavan, Kandyce Larson, Alice A. Kuo, Alexander N. Ortega

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Studies suggest that children with disabilities or serious health conditions are vulnerable to mental health problems due to adjustment and limitation problems. The aim of this study was to examine rates and predictors of unmet mental health need among children with special health care needs (CSHCN) and their family members and to determine if race/ethnicity and language are associated with unmet need for the child and family members who have a mental health need attributed to the child's special needs. Methods: Data are from the 2001 National Survey of Children with Special Health Care Needs, a nationally representative sample of CSHCN. Results: Rates of unmet need were higher for CSHCN and family members of CSHCN with a chronic emotional, behavioral, or developmental problem (EBDP) compared to CSHCN with a mental health need but not a chronic EBDP. In multivariate analysis controlling for condition impact and demographics, among CSHCN with a chronic EBDP, African-American children had greater odds of unmet need (OR 1.60, 95% CI, 1.12-2.28), and family members of Hispanic children with a Spanish language parent interview had greater odds of unmet need compared to others (OR 4.48, 95% CI, 1.72-11.63). Lacking a personal doctor or nurse was associated with higher odds of unmet need for CSHCN with and without a chronic EBDP. Conclusion: Parents reported prevalent mental health needs of CSHCN as well as family members. Given the importance of family members to the care of CSHCN, research on racial/ethnic disparities in access to perceived needs should focus on children and their family members.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)431-438
Number of pages8
JournalAmbulatory Pediatrics
Issue number6
StatePublished - Nov 2007


  • access
  • chronic illness
  • mental health
  • special health care needs

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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