The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released results from an interesting study of 35,000 families across the U.S. with a child between the ages of 2-8. The study found that 15.4% of kids in early childhood had been identified by a doctor or healthcare provider with a mental, behavioral or developmental disorder (ADHD, depression, anxiety problems, behavioral or conduct problems such as oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder, Tourette syndrome, autism spectrum disorder, learning disability, intellectual disability, developmental delay, or speech or other language problems).
We’ve known demographic factors and environmental influences in early childhood have significant impact on development, mental health, and overall health throughout the lifespan. What’s interesting about this study is that it points us to the most important determinants of mental, behavioral and developmental disorders, and provides a “roadmap” for missionary-minded churches seeking to address pressing needs within their local communities.
Among the factors identified in the study that contribute to MBDDs in young children were…
- Inadequate health insurance
- The child lacking a medical home, as defined by having a personal doctor or nurse, a usual source for sick and well care, family-centered care, access to needed referrals, and effective care coordination.
- Fair or poor parental mental health
- Difficulties getting by on the family’s income
- Employment difficulties because of child care issues
- Living in a neighborhood lacking support
- Living in a neighborhood lacking amenities (defined here as sidewalks, a park, a recreation center, and library)
- Living in a neighborhood in poor condition. In a multivariate analysis, fair or poor parental mental health and lacking a medical home were significantly associated with having an MBDD.
- Living in a home where English is the primary spoken language
Because the factors listed above tend to contribute to one another, the folks at the CDC undertook a complex statistical analysis to determine whether any factor was significant independent of the others. What they found was the lack of a medical home and poor parental mental health were the two most critical risk factors for future development of MBDDs.
So…what could a church potentially do to help?
Help families in need of a pediatrician or family practitioner for their kids to find one. The consistent availability of a personal healthcare practitioner is a critical variable in this study. More than 90% of kids in this study received preventive care within the past year. This study suggests that having a longitudinal relationship with a pediatrician or other healthcare practitioner is critical, because they’re more likely to pick up upon developmental delays in speech, language development, hearing, vision, social interaction and communication when conditions are amenable to early intervention.
Assist parents who are struggling with their own mental health issues to find help. One area in which most churches can do a better job, particularly within their children’s ministries is to check on kids and parents who have been regular attenders who disappear for weeks or months. Kids who are irregular attenders may have parents with conditions contributing to their attendance pattern.
Churches can help in other ways…directing families to organizations where they might find food or clothing assistance, after-school activity programming for working parents who struggle to find affordable childcare, short-term financial assistance when necessary to help pay for doctor’s visits or needed medications.
Some of the highest rates of MBDDs are seen in the Southeastern U.S. where the evangelical church has a more prominent presence…among the four states reporting rates of MBDDs over 20% are Kentucky, Arkansas and Mississippi. Churches might consider what they might do to help prevent the development of mental, behavioral and developmental disorders among young children in the communities they serve while earning the privilege of sharing the Gospel with the most vulnerable kids and families.
Key Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!