Carolina-Shaw Comprehensive NCMHD Research Center: “Developing a Pilot Intervention to Increase Child Mental Health Service Utilization by African-American Families”

Joseph P. Morrissey, PhD, Principal Investigator
Linmarie Sikich, MD, Co-Investigator
Kathleen C. Thomas, PhD, Co-Investigator
Ty Ellison, PhD, Co-Investigator
Alan R. Ellis, MSW, Project Analyst

There are pronounced racial disparities in children’s use of mental health services despite similar prevalence across racial groups of all childhood severe and persistent mental illness except depression. A variety of factors related to racism and stigma, family and illness characteristics, and service system attributes are likely to account for these disparities, but prior research on African-American children is limited in these areas. The TASK project seeks to develop an intervention that offers culturally sensitive ways of helping African-American families to access timely and appropriate care for their children with mental illness. This project is funded through the Carolina-Shaw Comprehensive NCMHD Research Center, devoted to eliminating health disparities through research among African-American populations in North Carolina.

The goal of the TASK intervention is to enhance knowledge and motivation to seek timely and appropriate care as well as the know-how to navigate the service system. The intervention content will be developed in three stages. First, focus groups will be conducted to identify service use issues of importance to families. Second, a statewide survey of African-American families with a child with mental illness will be conducted to determine the prevalence and correlates of issues related to service use. Together, the focus groups and survey will inform refinement of the intervention. Finally, a small randomized pilot trial of the intervention will be conducted in order to document recruitment, retention, best outcome measures and the effect of the intervention on them. These data elements are necessary to design and motivate a full-blown randomized controlled trial of the intervention. As of winter 2008, focus groups are underway and the statewide survey is being developed. Three iterations of the intervention will be piloted during 2008-2010 and an application for funding of a full-blown trial submitted at closure.