In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mental Illness: Children

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Resources
  • Journals
  • The Child Mental Health Service System
  • Interviewing and Engaging Children
  • Cultural Factors
  • Parents and Families
  • Social Context: Risk for Mental Disorders
  • Policy
  • Ethics, Trauma, Forensics, and Grief

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Social Work Mental Illness: Children
Marlys Staudt
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0091


Approximately 20 percent of children and adolescents have a psychiatric diagnosis. Anxiety and disruptive disorders are some of the more frequent disorders. About 5 to 7 percent of children have a serious emotional disturbance (SED). In addition to a diagnosis, these children experience impairment that substantially interferes with and limits their functioning in family, school, or community activities. Social workers in many settings, including mental health clinics, schools, child welfare, juvenile justice, and health care, are called upon to assess and treat youth with mental health disorders or to refer them to appropriate services. This entry provides references that will assist students and practitioners to understand the influences on child mental health, assessment and treatment strategies, and the service system and policies.

General Overviews

The topic of child mental illness is broad and includes the etiology and treatment for specific disorders, the history and structure of the service system, social policies affecting the delivery of services, and child and family access to and use of services. The references in this section provide an introduction to and an overview of mental illness in children. Each covers a variety of topics that are important to a basic understanding of children’s mental health policies and services as well as the etiology and treatment of child mental disorders. Dore 2005, US Department of Health and Human Services 2000, Marsh and Fristad 2002, and Pumariega and Winters 2003 provide information on specific disorders, treatments, the service system, and policy. They are an excellent starting point for students as well as good references for those already in the field. Dogra, et al. 2008 is basic and is best for paraprofessionals, undergraduate students, or others with no prior experiences in children’s mental health. Webber and Plotts 2008 is intended for school professionals, but those in other settings will also glean useful information on disorders from the book. National Advisory Mental Health Council 2001 focuses on developing and deploying intervention research focused on child and adolescent mental health. These sources provide a broad overview and touch upon several relevant issues rather than covering one topic in depth.

  • Dogra, Nisha, Andrew Parkin, Fiona Gale, and Clay Frake. 2008. A multidisciplinary handbook of child and adolescent mental health for front-line professionals. London: Jessica Kingsley.

    This is an introductory and easy-to-read handbook on child mental health. It defines mental health and describes the factors that influence it. Some specific child problems and treatments are described, and legal aspects are discussed.

  • Dore, M. M. 2005. Child and adolescent mental health. In Child welfare for the 21st century: A handbook of practices, policies, and programs. Edited by Gerald P. Mallon and Peg McCartt Hess, 148–172. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    Provides a good introduction to child mental health. It includes sections on the etiology of childhood mental disorders, identification of and assessment for disorders, current treatments, and the historical development of the mental health service system for children. Brief case scenarios at the beginning of the chapter are used to illustrate concepts.

  • Levin, Bruce Lubotsky, John Petrila, and Kevin D. Hennessy, eds. 2004. Mental health services: A public health perspective. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    Divided into four sections: service delivery issues, populations at risk (including children and adolescents), special issues (including criminal justice and racial diversity), and management of mental health systems.

  • Marsh, Diane T., and Mary A. Fristad, eds. 2002. Handbook of serious emotional disturbance in children and adolescents. New York: Wiley.

    Good source for practitioners and graduate students as it covers a range of issues relevant to children and youth with serious emotional disturbances. It provides a good introduction to specific disorders as well as the system of care concept and training and supervisory issues.

  • National Advisory Mental Health Council, Workgroup on Child and Adolescent Mental Health Intervention Development and Deployment. 2001. Blueprint for change: Research on child and adolescent mental health. Rockville, MD: Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health.

    Reviews child and adolescent mental health intervention research, examines current intervention research, and describes areas for future research as well as the infrastructure needed for this research.

  • Pumariega, Andres J., and Nancy C. Winters, eds. 2003. The handbook of child and adolescent systems of care: The new community psychiatry. San Francisco: Wiley.

    Addresses clinical treatments within community-based systems of care (SOC), administrative and policy issues related to the systems of care, the history of and concepts of the systems of care, and mental health services in other sectors of care, including schools, juvenile justice, and foster care. The concepts of empowerment and cultural sensitivity are integrated into each chapter.

  • US Department of Health and Human Services. 1999. Children and mental health. In Mental health: A report of the surgeon general, 124–220. Rockville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services.

    The first surgeon general’s report on mental health. Chapter 3 is devoted exclusively to children and adolescents and summarizes normal development, risk factors, prevention, etiology and treatment of specific disorders, and service delivery issues.

  • US Department of Health and Human Services. 2000. Report of the surgeon general’s Conference on Children’s Mental Health: A national action agenda. Washington, DC: Department of Health and Human Services.

    Prepared by the Department of Health and Human Services with the Department of Education and the Department of Justice. It makes recommendations and suggests action steps to enhance child mental health and improve services.

  • Webber, Jo, and Cynthia A. Plotts. 2008. Emotional and behavioral disorders: Theory and practice. Boston: Pearson, Allyn, and Bacon.

    This text was designed for school practitioners but is useful for those practicing in other settings as well. The main section describes five frameworks of disorders with applications to schools. Remaining chapters are devoted to internalizing and externalizing disorders, adolescents, and special issues in schools. Key questions, case studies, related readings, and suggested homework are included.

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