Each year, the number of children with significant social, emotional, and behavioural needs is increasing at a rate that necessitates additional attention and dedication.
According to the latest analysis of the National Survey of Children’s Health, one in six (17.4%) children ages 2 to 8 had a diagnosed mental, behavioural, or developmental disorder. This average drops to one in seven (13.9%) for children from high income households but dramatically increases to over one in five (22.1%) for children from households who fall below the poverty line.
In addition, children from low-income households typically have less access to care. Statistics show that 80% of children from low-income households visited at least one healthcare provider in the previous year (compared to almost 94% from high-income households). In addition to low income, other groups face increased exposure to health risk factors and decreased access to care. These groups include “people of color, Indigenous people, immigrant and non-English-speaking people, people with disabilities, people from Muslim and other religious minority backgrounds, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer people.” (Edyburn, et al)
Disparities in health care, and mental health care, have existed for generations. Despite increased awareness and understanding of disparities, a tremendous gap remains. “Mental health care disparities are especially pervasive and problematic, as they not only imperil the achievement of mental health equity, but they also contribute to a complex process that exacerbates existing disparities and disproportionalities in other health and social systems (e.g., in education systems, social services systems, and carceral systems).” (Barksdale, et al) Thus, without effective methods of resolving mental health care disparities, the gap will continue to widen and add burden to individuals, families, communities, and systems.
Studies show that early intervention and access to care for young children can have a positive impact on outcomes, (Gleason, et al). Studies have also shown that collaborative care can reduce racial and ethnic disparities in outcomes, (Jackson-Triche, et al).
Collaborative care is a form of integrated care that focuses on team-based collaboration across primary care providers, mental health care providers and other professional supports. Collaborative care has been shown to improve both access and quality of care and leveraging technology can expand the reach of collaborative care. Research has also shown that including family members and other caregivers in collaborative care can reduce a patients’ unmet needs and improve outcomes, (Friedman and Tong).
In addition, researchers suggest that acknowledging and respecting intersectionality of the child’s lived experience helps providers assess their own biases and appreciate the multiple identities and environments shaping the child. Strong evidence also shows the added value of coalition building and the importance of culturally-centered and community-engaged approaches for improving health among minority communities, (Blakely Harris, et al)
In 2021, Dan Richason and I created a new product category and care methodology called Village Driven Care (VDC). VDC is the simple idea that a village of collaborative caregivers can provide high quality, accessible and equitable care for those in need. VDC expands collaborative care to include professional support and natural support (family members, neighbors, clergy, etc.), and acknowledges and values the context of identity, culture, living situations, environment, and routine.
Meerkat Village is technology designed to deliver VDC to children in need. Meerkat Village is a subscription-based platform that improves outcomes for children in need by building collaboration and communication among the adults that support them. In VDC, the “village” of collaborative caregivers contribute to the provision of high quality, accessible, and equitable care. While Meerkat Village presently focuses on children in need of support, VDC is a model that can apply to diverse populations in need of care. Meerkat Village will address disparities in children’s health care, including mental health care, by building collaboration and communication among the adults surrounding a child in need.
In Meerkat Village, a parent or guardian is considered a partner and is empowered to invite professional and natural support to participate in the child’s digital village with consent authorization. Since the guardian can invite villagers from all aspects of the child’s life, the village values and respects the child’s lived experience (culture, environment, family, faith, school, community) rather than just a diagnosis and treatment plan. The digital village is always open, so thoughts and ideas are dynamic and responsive rather than prescriptive.
Our goal is to reduce children’s health disparities, including mental health, and improve outcomes. Our hope is that sustaining high quality, accessible VDC for children will also reduce disparities in other health, social, economic and justice systems.
If you are interested in Meerkat Village and Village Driven Care, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.