Mental health service costs offset by savings in other public sectors

Penn State researchers have found that reduced expenditures for inpatient hospitalization, the juvenile justice system, the child welfare system and the special education system offset the costs of the improved mental health services delivered to youth through the system of care approach now being tried in communities in every state in the U.S.

Mental health services for youth delivered via system of care have been criticized as too expensive compared to communities that don't adopt the approach. However, the Penn State study, the first of its type, shows that including spending in other service sectors in the analysis reduced the between-community cost difference from 81 percent to only 18 percent more for system of care.

Dr. E. Michael Foster, professor of health policy administration and demography who led the study, says, "Mental health services that keep youth out of the juvenile justice system, for example, not only save tax dollars that would have to be spent on that sector but also reduce the suffering of the youth and their families. In addition, by not having a juvenile justice record, youth improve their chances of finishing high school and making a successful transition to adulthood and becoming future taxpayers."

The study is detailed in a paper, "Public Costs of Better Mental Health Services for Children and Adolescents," in the current (Jan/Feb.) issue of Psychiatric Services, the journal of the American Psychiatric Association. Foster's co-author is Tim Connor of ORC Macro, Inc., Atlanta, Ga.

Foster explains that system of care is a philosophy, rather than a specific plan. Communities that adopt system of care make an effort at cross-agency cooperation for all child- and family-serving agencies to support children with complex needs in an integrated manner. Since communities have different needs, the system of care varies from location to location.

Nearly 100 communities have received support to adopt the sys

Contact: Barbara Hale
Penn State

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