Increasing mental health problems, homelessness

The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic may have abated in some areas, but Vermont children continue to experience a growing impact on mental health and homelessness.

Trends in homelessness and mental health have alarmed those compiling data for the 2022 “State of Vermont’s Children” report from Building Bright Futures, which serves as the state’s early childhood advisory council.

Some data was specific to 2022, and others compared recent readings to pre-pandemic readings to understand the effects of the public health emergency on Vermont families and children.

Sharp increase in mental health problems in preschool and elementary age

Between 2018 and 2021, Vermont experienced a 60 percent increase in children ages 3 to 8 with mental, emotional, or behavioral health problems. These conditions may have presented as anxiety, depression, or behavior and conduct problems.

Among all young people in this age group, 8.7% needed services in 2018, compared to 13.8% through the end of the 2020-2021 school year. The nation maintained a figure of 8% between 2016 and 2021, making Vermont’s stats all the more startling.

Dora Levinson, director of research and data for Building Bright Futures, said in a report briefing that there is ample anecdotal evidence showing more children are requiring mental health services than ever before. The acuteness of their needs is also increasing.

Additional data in the report showed a link between areas where fewer children received routine mental health services and an increase in the number of calls for crisis care. Levinson also said preventive care could go a long way to helping, however, federal programs like Medicaid and the Mental Health Services Block Grant only pay for services where a diagnosis has been established.

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