What public data sources can help us monitor children’s mental health in BC?

December 10, 2020

Improving the mental health of children in BC requires monitoring across all age groups — from infancy through late adolescence — to assess public investments aimed at better meeting children’s needs.

How to achieve this goal comprehensively was the subject of a report prepared by the Children’s Health Policy Centre (CHPC) at the request of the Child and Youth Mental Health Policy Branch of the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development. The BC Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions cosponsored the project.

The CHPC conducted an audit of possible data sources with potential application in BC, applying a population health framework to ensure comprehensiveness. The report examined 25 sources, identifying two types that — if used in aggregate —offer potential for ongoing monitoring. They are:

  1. For assessing determinants and status: Canada Census and BC Education data (determinants; covering all ages); Early and Middle Years Development Instruments (status; covering younger and middle school-age children only); and Canadian Community Health, Health Behaviour in School-Age Children and McCreary Adolescent Health Surveys (status; covering adolescents only); and
  2. For assessing interventions and services: MCFD’s Brief Child and Family Phone Interview (BCFPI) combined with BC Medical Services Plan (MSP) diagnoses from fee-for-service practitioners (mental healthcare encounters; covering all ages).

Yet each of these sources has limitations. For example, the BCFPI and MSP only cover those children who access services. And we know from high-quality epidemiological studies that the majority (56%) of children with mental disorders do not receive any services for these conditions.

So it is crucial to use population-based public data sources (such as #1 above) in combination with “clinical” sources (such as #2 above). And most importantly, public data sources should always be normed against epidemiological studies — which give the most accurate depiction of how many children need assistance.

For more information and to review the entire report, see here.