The mental health of the nation's children is in jeopardy and requires targeted, early intervention, said psychologists at a congressional briefing on children's mental health co-sponsored by APA and the Interdivisional Task Force on Children's Mental Health on Oct. 10. Approximately one in five children has diagnosable social and mental health problems, said psychologist Jane Knitzer, EdD, moderator of the session, entitled "Children's Mental Health: Key Challenges Strategies and Effective Solutions." What's more, these problems are beginning early in life--children in preschool are being expelled at three times the rate of elementary school children, she continued. Lower-income and minority children are at even greater risk.

However, early intervention that incorporates families, teachers, social workers and anyone else in the child's life can help ensure that children get the treatment they need for healthy social and mental development, said the assembled panel, which included Kenneth J. Martinez, PsyD, University of New Mexico; Kimberely Eaton Hoagwood, PhD, Columbia University; Janice L. Cooper, PhD, Columbia University; Mark Wiest, PhD, University of Maryland; Patrick Tolan, PhD, University of Illinois; and William Pelham, PhD, State University of New York at Buffalo.

Critical areas for early intervention include treating parental depression, improving child health by expanding programs such as Head Start and the Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants and Children, integrating mental health care into schools and providing culturally appropriate care.

The task is urgent, say experts.

"An estimated 17 percent of young children have diagnosable social and emotional disorders," said Knitzer. "Many more children are exposed to risk factors that increase the odds of poor social and emotional development."

The session was held in conjunction with Rep. Donna Christensen (D-V.I.), Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.), Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas), Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.), Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-Calif.), and Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.).

--L. Meyers