Summary and Keywords
One of the most important unanswered questions for any society is how best to invest in children’s mental health. Childhood is a sensitive and opportune period in which to invest in programs and services that can mitigate a range of downstream risks for health and mental health conditions. Investing in such programs and services will require a shift from focusing not only on reducing deficits but also enhancing the child’s skills and other assets. Economic evaluation is crucial for determining which programs and services represent optimal investments. Several registries curate lists of programs with high evidence of effectiveness; many of these programs also have evidence of positive benefit-cost differentials, although the economic evidence is typically limited and uncertain. Even the programs with the strongest evidence are currently reaching only a small fraction of young people who would potentially benefit. Thus, it is important to understand and address factors that impede or facilitate the implementation of best practices. One example of a program that represents a promising investment is home visiting, in which health workers visit the homes of new parents to advise on parenting skills, child needs, and the home environment. Another example is social emotional learning programs delivered in schools, where children are taught to regulate emotions, manage behaviors, and enhance relationships with peers. Investing in these and other programs with a strong evidence base, and assuring their faithful implementation in practice settings, can produce improvements on a range of mental health, academic, and social outcomes for children, extending into their lives as adults.
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