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News Collaborative Mapping Project Reveals Pockets of Concern for Children's Behavioral Health

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Austin, Texas - (May 16, 2011) - A first-ever mapping of youth mental and behavioral health issues in Central Texas is being unveiled today at the Children's Optimal Health (COH) Summit taking place at Dell Children's Medical Center.

This project's major aims are to raise community awareness of the mental health needs of children in the region and to highlight the geographic distribution of resources relevant to children's behavioral health. Through mapping, the challenges can be tracked over time and the impact of changes may be documented.

"Mental health challenges can drastically impair a child's success and frequently exist as hidden burdens that families face alone. Furthermore, our city and state face a great shortage of mental health professionals and services. By identifying specific areas with higher needs, we hope to raise awareness and create and improve systems of health care delivery and community support," commented Dr. Stephen Pont, COH committee member as well as Dell Children's pediatrician and medical director for Dell Children's Texas Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Childhood Obesity and Children's/AISD Student Health Services.

Research shows that barriers to learning, such as mental and emotional health caused by stressful factors in a youth's community or family environments, negatively impact children's health. Research also shows that improving stress management skills can reduce risky behavior among children.

Some data presented today include:

Map reflecting one year's worth of absenteeism rates in AISD middle schools

  • Research indicates that students who miss 10% or more days of school are at highest risk of not completing high school.
  • A 1% improvement in attendance across AISD would result in additional revenue from the state of $5.6 million. (Source: AISD)

Map reflecting middle school students' survey responses to: How good is your ability to cope with stress and negative emotions?

  • 2% MS students report ability to manage stress is very good or good.
  • 5% MS students report ability to manage stress is poor or very poor.

"This is a first step to encourage conversation, inform policy, and focus solutions to create an impactful change for the well being of children," said Cinda L. Christian, Ph.D., Department of Program Evaluation, Austin Independent School District (ASID). "The maps presented today offer a one-of-a-kind assessment of children's mental and behavioral health that would not have been possible without the leadership of Children's Optimal Health, financial support from the Safe Schools/Healthy Students grant, and the collaboration of multiple community organizations and associations."

The majority of maps presented at today's summit are based on the results of a 2010 Student Substance Use and Safety Survey distributed at all AISD middle and high schools. The survey provides comprehensive local information on student substance use and school safety, and is used to track student knowledge, attitudes, and self-reported behavior over a period of time. In the spring of 2010, nearly 11,600 surveys were sent to middle and high school students. Of those, more than 8,500 students in grades 6-12 submitted responses.

Last year, COH presented a mapping project focused on identifying areas of childhood obesity in Central Texas. Other mapping projects have been focused on prenatal care access, motor vehicle trauma and child mobility. Some results include: identification of hot spots of overweight and obese middle school students for community organizations; identification of a need for a car seat-distribution center at specific areas; the use of maps for grant proposals by direct service agencies and initiatives as well as by Central Health and others for strategic planning purposes.

The visual images and communication of data from COH are attained through data sharing agreements under the Safe Harbor Data Center. By combining data from multiple sources and sectors, the organization can leverage and share data for the community's benefit in ways that no single member organization can.

COH was established in 2008 through a collaboration of community agencies and institutions. Seton Family of Hospitals is one of more than 20 local organizations that have supported the efforts of the organization through funding, leadership and/or data collaboration.

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