Policy Factsheet

Child Mental Health Programs

Reasons for Policy

  • Between 20% and 30% of children have mental health problems.1
  • Untreated mental disorders can be costly to the children, their families, and society as a whole. Costs are estimated to exceed $14 billion annually.1 2
  • Only 25% of children that need mental health services actually get them.2

Community Groups

  • Local Government
  • Local Public Health Department
  • Non-profits/Community Organizations
  • School District
  • State Government

Policy Components

  • Programs focused on early intervention and prevention rather than treating existing problems
  • Address multiple domains (family, school, and community)
  • Periodic follow-ups
  • Uses interactive activities
  • Targets at-risk children in early years

Desired Outcomes

  • Lower prevalence rates of anxiety, depression, and conduct disorders
  • Higher levels of self-esteem
  • Higher levels of prosocial behavior
  • Lower rates of dropout, unemployment, and crime due to untreated mental disorders

Level of Evidence Available to Evaluate Effectiveness of Policy

For all policies we describe on this website, we have applied the Standards of Evidence as defined by Flay et al. (2005) in the Standards of Evidence document published by Prevention Science.

The effectiveness level of this policy is 1: Evidence-Based Policies Meeting Criteria for Effectiveness.

The levels of effectiveness as noted are:

  1. meets criteria for policy effectiveness (consistent, positive outcomes from at least two high-quality experimental or quasi-experimental trials using a comparison group or interrupted time series design);
  2. consistent evidence available linking policy with positive outcomes from high-quality observational studies only;
  3. insufficient evidence available for policy or policy components.

Achievable Results

On average, prevention programs targeting mental health can achieve:

  • Small reductions in conduct disorder symptoms (Effect Size: 0.12-0.39)2
  • 10% reduction of diagnosed conduct disorder2
  • 11-17% reductions in diagnostic measures for depression2

There is some evidence that these programs can achieve moderate reductions in anxiety among at-risk children. However, more research is needed. 2

Community Examples

  • Berkeley, CA
  • Santa Cruz, CA Health Services Agency provides mental health services through a variety of programs

Links to Policy Examples

Be sure to check with your state, county, and municipal governments regarding potential existing laws that may impede any new policy development.


  1. Browne G, Gafni A, Roberts J, Byrne C, Majumdar B (2004). Effective/efficient mental health programs for school-age children: A synthesis of reviews. Social Science & Medicine, 58, 1367-1384.  

  2. Waddell C, Hua JM, Garland OM, DeV. Peters R, McEwan K (2007). Preventing mental disorders in children: A systematic review to inform policy-making. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 98(3), 166-173.  

  3. Flay, BR, Biglan, A, Boruch, RF, Ganzalez Castro, F, Gottfredson, D, Kellam, S, Moscicki, EK, Schinke, S, Valentine, JC, & Ji, P (2005). Standards of evidence: Criteria for efficacy, effectiveness and dissemination. Prevention Science, 6(3), 151-175.