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University of South Florida · College of Behavioral & Community Sciences · Mental Health Law & Policy


Key Personnel:
Oliver T. Massey
Mary Ann Kershaw
Kim K. Falk
Shani K. Hannah

Children who drop out of treatment: Final report

Publication Date: 10/1/2000

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Among children receiving mental health services, a large proportion terminates services after only one or two contacts with a mental health professional. While some of these children may be appropriately triaged into other settings or service modalities, a large number simply cease to return or drop out of services. Estimates suggest that anywhere from 28% to 85% of children receiving services drop out (Novick, Benson, & Rembar, 1981). For the purpose of this study a dropout was defined as a child under the age of 19 who had no more than one contact with the mental health system within six months of the initial intake with the service provider.

The purpose of this study was to investigate the characteristics and experiences of children who drop out of mental health services prematurely. By implementing a mixed method analysis including surveys, record reviews, and interviews we are beginning to better understand the reasons for early terminations from the perspective of the children themselves and their parents or caregivers. The experience of this study suggests that the mobility of the population greatly impacts the families' ability/willingness to continue in services. The population of interest was extremely difficult to identify and contact during this study.

The factors that most strongly influence the decision to discontinue service were: the waiting time before and between early appointments, the convenience of the appointments in relation to work and school, the perceived appropriateness of mental health services, and the disconnect between the services that families believed they needed and those that were offered to them. In short, caregivers and children had trouble with both accessing mental health services and receiving appropriate services. This project is but one step toward listening to consumers about their early experiences with mental health provider agencies and working toward decreasing dropouts.