Pew Awards $6.55M to Address Philadelphia’s Youth Mental Health Crisis

Grants will address barriers to accessing care and include $4M for the Children’s Crisis Treatment Center

PHILADELPHIA—The Pew Charitable Trusts announced today that it has awarded $6.55 million to five Philadelphia-area nonprofit organizations working to make critically needed mental and behavioral health services more accessible for the region’s children and teens, particularly those living in underserved communities.

The COVID-19 pandemic, along with rising gun violence and drug overdose deaths, has created extraordinary stressors and trauma for young people that have prompted the U.S. surgeon general to deem children’s mental health a crisis. Nationally, rates of depression and anxiety among children and adolescents have doubled, and a staggering 22% of high school students in 2021 reported having seriously considered suicide, according to CDC data that Pew analyzed in March. In the city of Philadelphia, where over a third of young people live in poverty, the need for mental health services is critical.

Exacerbating the crisis are multiple barriers to accessing treatment, including an insufficient number of mental and behavioral health professionals and support staff, which has created months-long waitlists to see a provider; a lack of specialized care and services, such as culturally responsive and trauma-informed care, particularly for Black and Latino Philadelphians; facilities that are not easily accessible to the neighborhoods with the greatest need; and stigmatization around mental health.

With Pew’s support, the grantee organizations will scale evidence-based care, bolster the region’s mental health workforce through new recruitment and retention efforts, and innovate to improve accessibility and treatment quality for specialized populations, such as young people with severe anxiety disorders and children exhibiting problematic sexual behaviors.

The five new grants are as follows:

  • Children’s Crisis Treatment Center (CCTC) has been awarded $4 million over five years in flexible support to create and adopt a business plan to expand its services throughout the Philadelphia region, enabling the organization to treat an additional 2,000 children annually. The plan will include a new site in North Philadelphia, which the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has classified as a medically underserved community, and will allow CCTC to serve more children and families where a third of its current clients live. The new outpatient clinic will complement CCTC’s existing school- and community-based programs and acute treatment facility in the neighborhood and help the agency provide more care coordination to address the impacts of poverty, which might otherwise interfere with engaging in behavioral health services. CCTC intends to identify additional expansion sites and opportunities to offer services, including integrated care in pediatric clinics, in high-need areas of Philadelphia and surrounding counties. The organization’s growth plans also include adding new technologies to help provide seamless, data-driven, coordinated care, as well as recruiting and training 100 new clinical and support staff members.
  • Center for Families and Relationships (CFAR) has received $1.8 million over five years in flexible support to undergo a business planning process, with the goal of expanding its therapy services to double the number of Philadelphia-area young people served annually to 4,000, with a particular focus on underserved communities. The expansion will include two new physical locations: one in the city of Philadelphia and one in the surrounding counties, which will be determined based on community needs and existing provider and referral partnerships in those areas. The agency will also increase the number and diversity of Philadelphia-area clinicians licensed in trauma-informed and systemic family approaches to children and youth mental health by adding more staff members to train interns and lead professional development programs. Recognizing the critical importance of building its administrative and technological infrastructure to achieve these growth goals, CFAR will also invest in human resources, information technology, finance, and marketing to support its day-to-day clinical operations, as well as the longer-term, vital knowledge base that comes from the ability to collect, analyze, and use data in real time to better address barriers to accessing care. And finally, the organization will deepen its existing diversity, equity, and inclusion work by increasing its board diversity; expand trainings on racial trauma and the implications of culture, power, and privilege on the therapeutic process; and address the need for more clinicians and staff of different races, cultures, and languages, including the growing need for Portuguese speakers.
  • Child Guidance Resource Centers has been awarded $250,000 over two years to address the community-based youth mental health workforce shortage throughout the Philadelphia region by enhancing and expanding its professional development center, which was launched in 2019 in response to a decline in qualified candidates applying for positions and an increase in youth mental health professionals leaving public health work for less-stressful, higher-paying career opportunities. With Pew’s support, the organization will tailor its intern recruitment program to attract and more effectively support individuals of color, first-generation college students, and nonclinical staff; expand the number of licensure candidates and supervisors in its no-cost clinical supervision program; and design and implement post-licensure support, including peer groups that are attuned to the complex client needs that behavioral health professionals encounter. The agency will also explore the development of continuing education courses, in partnership with other mental health providers and higher education institutions, with the objective of supporting regional retention of Philadelphia’s clinical workforce.
  • Philadelphia’s Children’s Alliance has received $250,000 over two years to help address gaps in identifying and providing appropriate treatment for children under age 10 who exhibit “problematic sexual behavior,” a group that requires highly specialized care. Although these children are often the victims of sexual abuse or exposure to sexual activity, they are rarely connected to treatment: Only 6% of 600 identified cases were referred to clinical services in 2022. Instead, the behavior is often minimized, excused, or criminalized. With Pew’s support, the Children’s Alliance will implement a four-part strategy: raise awareness of these children among Philadelphia’s clinical community, reframing the narrative to help clinicians understand their needs; provide technical assistance to the organization’s multidisciplinary partners—such as the Philadelphia Department of Human Services, the Philadelphia Police Department, hospitals, and the district attorney’s office—to strengthen identification, referral, and coordination to ensure that children and families are more consistently offered treatment; pilot a holistic treatment model that meets the children’s therapeutic needs, through specialized trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, as well as the psychoeducational needs of their families and caregivers; and train and support at least 50 clinicians from partner providers to help sustain the model.
  • Penn Medicine’s Pediatric Anxiety Treatment Center at Hall-Mercer (PATCH) has received $250,000 over two years to expand the availability of and access to specialized treatment for the growing number of children and youth with anxiety disorders, particularly among the city’s Black and Latino communities, which are home to 45% and 23% of Philadelphians ages 4-18, respectively. With Pew’s support, PATCH—the only program in the city’s public mental health system specializing in exposure-based cognitive behavioral therapy for youth, the gold standard for treating anxiety disorders—will expand its staffing capacity while building a strategy to increase the availability of culturally responsive treatment for young people of color. This includes forming a family advisory board to guide recruitment and support for Black and Latino youth, increasing the number of children treated from these communities over two years, and educating peer providers and clinical programs on culturally responsive practices, as well as continued community engagement and program evaluation.

Kristin Romens, project director of The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Fund for Health and Human Services, said of the grants, “Philadelphia’s children deserve the very best care to support their emotional well-being and help them thrive, particularly in light of the challenges they have faced during the pandemic. It’s imperative that we invest in making specialized services more widely available and accessible to those who need them most. That’s why Pew is supporting these five grantees. Whether the organizations are planning to expand to physical locations in new neighborhoods or create innovative ways to attract and retain a diverse workforce within the public mental health system, all recognize the dire need to have treatment and services meet people where they are, using culturally relevant, multilingual, and trauma-informed approaches.”

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Celebrating its 75th anniversary, The Pew Charitable Trusts uses data to make a difference. Pew addresses the challenges of a changing world by illuminating issues, creating common ground, and advancing ambitious projects that lead to tangible progress. In our hometown of Philadelphia, Pew is committed to making an impact through research and policy work to help the city navigate challenges, supporting the health and well-being of people facing complex challenges rooted in poverty, encouraging a thriving arts and cultural community, and pursuing civic initiatives to strengthen the area’s appeal to residents and visitors alike. Learn more at pewtrusts.org/Philadelphia.

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