One of every four preschool-age children from a low-income family who receives medical care at urban primary care clinics needs further evaluation for social and emotional problems, according to a new study.

The study, led by researchers at Cincinnati Children’s, is published online in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

“We need to make sure there are medical systems and community partnerships in place to meet the needs of this population,” says Courtney Brown, MD, a pediatrician at Cincinnati Children’s and lead author of the study. “Among those screening positive, only one in six had been referred previously for behavioral health services.”

The study involved administering a standardized screening survey for social and emotional problems to 254 parents of 3- and 4-year-old children at two of the medical center’s urban primary care clinics. Only 16 percent of those who screened positive reported a prior referral for help.  In addition, 45 percent of these children had a parent with symptoms of depression.

“Four of every five parents said they were receptive to a referral to a counselor or psychologist,” Brown says.  “Future research should work to explain and close the gap between the percentage of families who need and want preventive or early intervention services and the percentage of families that actually enroll in such programs.”

The study was supported by funds from the Department of Health and Human Services under a Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award and by a grant from the National Institutes of Health/National Center for Research Resources.