Evaluating access to and delivery of mental health services for young children was a primary objective of the national research demonstration program Starting Early Starting Smart (SESS).
To present preliminary findings on family mental health and use of services in a community Head Start population at time of entry into a longitudinal study as part of the SESS program.
Children enrolled for Head Start entry in 1998 and 1999 (N = 290; mean age, 4.3 years). Of these children, 52% were boys.
Data on demographic factors, child and parent mental health, and service use were collected from the sample at baseline. Information was gathered from primary caregivers and teachers using standardized questionnaires and structured interviews.
There was low concordance between parent and teacher ratings of child behavior. Factors predicting behavior problems in young children varied according to whether the parent or teacher rated the child as having behavior problems. Sex (male) and home environment were associated with teachers rating the child as having a behavior problem. Parent mental health problems and problems in the parent-child relationship were associated with parent ratings. Only home environment was associated with child-focused service utilization (services that help parents manage children's behavior).
Demographic risk factors were not associated with child behavior problems or use of mental health services in this group of Head Start children. Findings suggest that children with behavioral problems have unmet mental health service needs. Interventions designed to address both parent mental health needs and sensitivity to the developmental needs of children may increase child-focused mental health service utilization.