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The AAP Offers Guidance on Caring for Psychosocial Needs of Children with Special Health Care Needs

Nurse with boy in wheelchair. Nurse with boy in wheelchair.

   The AAP finds a collaborative approach to health care is important in caring for the nearly 20 percent of U.S. children with special health care needs.

The number of children in America with special health care needs is rising, increasing about 15 percent in the past six years. To equip pediatricians in caring for these children, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is publishing a new clinical report, “Psychosocial Factors in Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs and their Families” in the January 2019 issue of Pediatrics.

Children and youth with special health care needs are at increased risk for chronic physical, developmental, behavioral, or emotional conditions, and studies show their families experience greater financial and caregiving demands. Yet, pediatricians can play a role in promoting the strengths of these children, who thrive when provided with the proper supports.

"Children and families who have special health care needs are more likely to face emotional or psychological challenges, financial problems, difficulties in school and staying motivated in studies, and bullying,” said pediatrician Gerri Mattson, MD, FAAP, lead author of the report.

“The American Academy of Pediatrics urges pediatricians to promote protective psychosocial factors as part of a coordinated comprehensive care for children with special needs and their families,” she said. “A team-based approach with community partners such as child care and schools can help with the mitigation of risk factors and promotion of protective factors such as healthy parenting techniques, stress reduction and social services, to increase resiliency.”

Roughly 19.4 percent of children and teens in the U.S. have a special health care need, according to 2016 data. This represents a 15.1 percent increase from 2010. To care for these children, the AAP recommends pediatricians play a leadership role in screening and assessment, promoting health and wellness, offering flexible payments to lower financial burdens of health care, and implementing team-based strategies. 

Other recommendations include:

  • Promote health and wellness and timely assessments of child social-emotional health, parental and/or caregiver depression, and social determinants of health.

  • Prepare pediatric practices to improve screening, referrals and follow-up of these children to ensure they receive the care they need.

  • Work with child care and school staff to monitor progress, reduce absences, and improve learning experiences and academic performance.

  • Advocate for community-based resources and strategies to address social determinants of health and reduction of disparities for children with health issues and their families.

In addition, the AAP recommends more research be done on screening tools and adaptations to help children with special health care needs.

12/17/2018 12:00 AM
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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