Low-income Philadelphia children seeking mental health services wait on average 15 days for an initial appointment, and an additional 12 days to start therapy. That's according to a new report from the advocacy organization Public Citizens for Children and Youth, PCCY.
Researchers there tracked wait times at Philadelphia mental health agencies contracted by the city to provide services. Colleen McCauley, health policy director at PCCY, called the findings upsetting.
"It's unacceptable to have kids wait for a month for treatment for a problem that, for many of them, has likely been an issue for a while," said McCauley, who helped compile the report.
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The mental health agencies' contracts with the city require them to see clients within seven days of getting a call, she said, and many aren't coming close.
The long wait times likely exacerbate already difficult situations for children who may be suffering from depression or struggling with behavior problems in school, according to Roxy Woloszyn, a health policy associate with PCCY.
"To wait that long for just an initial appointment, and then to have to wait an additional amount of time until they are in active therapy, it just creates more challenges for the child and the family," she said.
Not being able to get an appointment quickly could mean that families give up on getting help altogether.
The report has been shared with city officials. And McCauley and Woloszyn say they want the city's department of behavioral health to work more closely with its contract agencies to track and reduce wait times.
Some Philadelphia agencies have already managed to speed up their intake process -- among them "Intercommunity Action" or "Interact" in the Roxborough section of the city.
Michael Gray, who directs the agency's counseling center, says part of the solution was to track no-shows. "We opened up those slots, and we were able to put intakes into those slots, and we were able to see people in much more quickly," he said.
Gray says his agency is sharing its solutions with other agencies.