NABH Calls on Lawmakers to Expand Behavioral Treatment Options for Children, Adolescents

The National Association for Behavioral Healthcare (NABH) is asking lawmakers and government officials to improve the behavioral health treatment options available to children and adolescents nationwide. Specifically, the trade group wants to see residential treatment included in the continuum of care alongside outpatient, intensive outpatient (IOP), partial hospitalization (PHP) and inpatient care offerings.

Formerly the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems (NAPHS), NABH is one of the largest trade associations in the behavioral health space. It represents a member base of more than 1,800 organizations, which include providers from across the continuum of behavioral health care.

NABH called out the need to improve access to residential treatment for children and adolescents in a recent white paper. It comes as COVID-19 has worsened the nation’s mental health, hitting children and adolescents especially hard.


In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mental health-related emergency room visits for those ages 5 to 17 spiked last year. Visits were up 24% year-over-year for the period from March to October 2020 for children ages 5 to 11 and 32% for adolescents ages 12 to 17.

Despite the fact that people go there for behavioral health care, emergency rooms typically lack the specialized personnel to treat behavioral health issues. Even outside of the ER, not all behavioral health treatment options are created equal, with some settings being more appropriate and successful for certain patients than others. 

“For children adolescents who struggle with complex behavioral healthcare needs, psychiatric residential treatment settings provide a comprehensive range of therapies, as well as specialists who are not available in other levels of care,” NABH President and CEO Shawn Coughlin said in a press release accompanying the white paper. “These programs are absolutely essential for kids who have not responded to outpatient treatment, who have educational needs that can’t be met in less restrictive settings or in school, or who need more intensive treatment after inpatient psychiatric care.”


While outpatient mental health services work well for patients with lower-level needs, they’re not always enough for those in need of more intensive levels of care. IOP and PHP can work for some of those folks, and inpatient care is best suited for those in crisis who pose an immediate threat to themselves or others. 

Meanwhile, residential care lies somewhere between IPO and inpatient care. It works best for children and adolescents with more serious behavioral health conditions who are in need of a more comprehensive array of therapies and more contact with specialized providers. And according to a NABH study of 2019 outcomes data from more than 3,103 adolescents, 86% of adolescents saw their conditions improve between admission and discharge of residential treatment.

“It is critical to improve access to this level of care,” the white paper said.

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