Background: An increasing number of young people have made contact with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). However, only a small proportion of the population with emotional problems, actually seek specialized care. Research concerning the help-seeking process and pathways to care of a clinical sample could help to develop effective health policies to facilitate access to specialized care. Aim: To analyze the access pattern for CAMHS, reasons of contact and care pathways of a consecutive sample of first-time patients. Our aim was to analyze the association between source of referral, socio-demographic and clinical variables. Methods: Standardized assessment instruments and information concerning access patterns and care pathways were collected from 399 patients at first-time contact with CAMHS in a Northern Italian Region. Results: Most patients were referred to CAMHS by school teachers (36 %) or health professionals (32 %), while only 17 % of the parents sought help by themselves. School issues (50 %) and emotional problems (17 %) were the most frequent reasons for contact. The proportion of first-time contacts with no diagnosis of mental disorder at their first consultation did not differ by source of referral. Parents of children who did not receive a clinical diagnosis of mental disorders described them as "psychosocially impaired" and their condition as "clinically severe" likewise parents of patients who received a psychiatric diagnosis. Patients with externalizing problems were more frequently referred by the parents themselves, while youth with internalizing problems were more often referred through health professionals. Families with non-traditional structures (adoptive, foster care, mono-parental) were more likely to consult CAMHS directly, while immigrant youth were more often referred by teachers. Conclusion: Socio-demographic and clinical characteristics can affect pathways to care. To improve early access to care for children and adolescents with ongoing mental disorders, a plan for proper action addressed to teachers and health professionals may well be important. This would improve their ability to recognize emotional and behavioral problems and use proper referral pathways, while informative intervention addressed to non-Italian families should inform them about the functioning and the mission of CAMHS.
- Health services
- Mental health
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
- Psychiatry and Mental health