The shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists in the United States has reached the crisis level with 7418 practicing in a country with 73,675,6002 children and adolescents. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, about 20 percent of children and adolescents have a mental disorder with at least a mild functional impairment.3

"When traveling four and a half hours each way for services, we feel that we have to choose which child to support: the one left at home with a ball game or parent teacher conference or the one you need to take on a road trip for service," said Amy, a mother living in Wyoming and a parent spokesperson for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

The Child Health Care Crisis Relief Act sponsored by Congressman Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) was reintroduced today in the House of Representatives. This bill will support loan repayment, scholarships, clinical training grants, and education grants for children's mental health professionals including: behavioral pediatricians, child and adolescent psychiatrists, child psychologists, school psychologists, school social workers, school counselors, psychiatric nurses, and marriage and family therapists.

Child and adolescent psychiatry is the only medical specialty that comprehensively trains physicians to assess and treat children and adolescents' mental illnesses. Only an average of 300 child and adolescent psychiatrists complete training each year. Overwhelming educational debt, pressure and incentives to pursue a primary care career, a long training period, and reimbursement problems discourage medical students from choosing child and adolescent psychiatry.4

"This bill will greatly alleviate the paucity of available specialists trained in child and adolescent psychiatry," said Robert Hendren, D.O., President of the AACAP. "Enacting this legislation will allow child and adolescent psychiatrists to receive Federal support to complete their training by removing a considerable financial burden."

Most children and adolescents who receive treatment do so by their primary care physicians, who identify about 19 percent of the children they see as having behavioral and emotional disorders.5 Pediatricians and family physicians are able, with appropriate training and consultation, to initiate mental health interventions to children with behavioral problems and common mental health disorders. However, some children do not improve with initial intervention and may require the specialized treatment of a child and adolescent psychiatrist.4

Children and adolescents who do not receive treatment for mental illnesses are at a higher risk for school failure, problems at home, substance abuse, and entrance into the juvenile justice system. Early treatment by a trained professional, such as a child and adolescent psychiatrist is critical to the development of a child with mental illness.

"The most common inquiry we receive at the Child and Adolescent Bipolar Foundation (CABF) is where to find a child psychiatrist," said Susan Resko, Executive Director. "Children wait for months for an appointment, or their parents drive for hours to the nearest specialist. We need to address this shortage so that children can receive the treatment they so desperately need."


1. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). 2008. Analysis of American Medical Association Physician Masterfile. Washington, D.C.: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

2. American FactFinder, United States Census Bureau. 2008. "2005-2007 American Community Survey 3-Year Estimates" United States - Fact Sheet - American FactFinder Web site.

3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health, 1999.

4. American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP). 2008. Health Care Reform Principles. Washington, D.C.: American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

5. The President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health. 2003. Achieving the Promise: Transforming Mental Health Care in America. Rockville, MD.

To read the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry's Health Care Reform Principles, click here.

Representing over 7,400 child and adolescent psychiatrists nationwide, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) is the leading authority on children's mental health. AACAP members actively research, diagnose, and treat psychiatric disorders affecting children, adolescents, and their families.

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry