Funneling Child Welfare Consumers into and through the Mental Health System: Assessment, Referral, and Quality Issues


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

This qualitative study explores how consumers of child welfare services reach nonpsychiatric mental health providers and the perceived quality of these services. It relies on iterative interviews with individuals and groups, as well as on court observations from one metropolitan area. Results suggest that, consistent with theories of street-level bureaucracy, efficiency issues drive mental health service use, as clients are routinely subjected to psychological evaluations and funneled into mental health services as a matter of course. Referral practices are shaped by child welfare professionals’ routines, discretion, and desire to meet such system objectives as providing short turnaround times for reports. The results suggest that, despite stakeholders’ best intentions, maltreated children are not benefiting from thoughtful processes geared to screen for, assess, and provide targeted treatment for unmet mental health needs.

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