BMC Health Services Research
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Background: Some children with mental health (MH) problems have been found to receive ongoing care, either continuously or episodically. We sought to replicate patterns of MH service use over extended time periods, and test predictors of these patterns. Methods: Latent class analyses were applied to 4 years of visit data from five MH agencies and nearly 6000 children, 4-to 13-years-old at their first visit. Results: Five patterns of service use were identified, replicating previous findings. Overall, 14% of cases had two or more episodes of care and 23% were involved for more than 2 years. Most children (53%) were seen for just a few visits within a few months. Two patterns represented cases with two or more episodes of care spanning multiple years. In the two remaining patterns, children tended to have just one episode of care, but the number of sessions and length of involvement varied. Using discriminant function analyses, we were able to predict with just over 50% accuracy children's pattern of service use. Severe externalizing behaviors, high impairment, and high family burden predicted service use patterns with long durations of involvement and frequent visits. Conclusions: Optimal treatment approaches for children seen for repeated episodes of care or for care lasting multiple years need to be developed. Children with the highest level of need (severe pathology, impairment, and burden) are probably best served by providing high intensity services at the start of care.