Prevention: Reaching more kids

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Schwartz, C., Yung, D., Cairncross, N., Barican, J., Gray-Grant, D., & Waddell, C. (2020). Prevention: Reaching more kids. Children’s Mental Health Research Quarterly, 14(1), 1–16. Vancouver, BC: Children’s Health Policy Centre, Faculty of Health Sciences, Simon Fraser University.

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Background: Effective prevention programs are particularly crucial to reduce the number of children in need of mental health treatment services. Yet despite growing research evidence on effective programs, prevention efforts remain modest in many jurisdictions.  Given the high levels of unmet needs, reaching more children is a priority. One approach is to identify prevention options that are more self-directed and less reliant on direct provision by practitioners, such as online programming and self-help tools.

Methods: We used systematic review methods to identify randomized control trials (RCTs) evaluating self-directed prevention interventions. Applying our inclusion criteria, we accepted eight RCTs evaluating seven prevention interventions.

Results: The seven self-directed interventions prevented or reduce symptoms of the five most common childhood mental concerns — anxiety, ADHD, problematic substance use, behaviour problems and depression. These interventions assisted children and youth across a range of ages, from the preschool years to the teens.

Conclusions: Strong research evidence supports the use of self-directed prevention interventions as part of the continuum of care for the most common childhood mental health concerns. Including these types of interventions in overall service planning can enable providers to reach many more children, youth and families, in turn potentially lowering the need for treatment. Comprehensive children’s mental health plans should therefore include these kinds of prevention programs.

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