Research increasingly recognizes children’s mental health as a predictor of educational and mental health outcomes well into adulthood. Treatments and prevention programs that can prevent the onset of mental health problems among children and youth reduce the cost of potential long-lasting consequences while improving productivity and resilience.
The mission of The Institute for Translational Research in Children’s Mental Health (ITR) is to advance quality research, evidence-based clinical training, and information dissemination focused on children’s mental health and development ages 0 to 18. Through associated centers and programs, ITR serves systems that interface with and impact the mental health of children and families.
What we do
- Conduct research on effective prevention and treatment interventions for children’s mental health
- Train those who work with children on the most effective interventions for children’s mental health issues
- Provide direct mental health services to at-risk families
- Bring together leading research programs on children’s mental health
The rise of evidence-based practices
Over the past several decades, there have been enormous breakthroughs in our understanding of how to improve children’s mental health. Two generations of researchers have shifted the paradigm in children’s mental health away from practitioners using their instincts towards developing effective systems for dealing with various mental health issues, and making sure those practices stand up to the same scientific rigor we use for pharmaceuticals, medical devices, or any other science-based medical tool.
The advent of these evidence-based practices has ushered in an exciting new era for preventing and treating mental health issues in our children, which has enormous benefits for individuals, families, and societies. There are now more than 100 intervention programs recognized as evidence-based, tailored to different mental health issues and settings. These interventions have all shown successful outcomes in randomized controlled trials — the scientific gold standard of demonstrating the effectiveness of a treatment — and they are available to use by those who work with children and families.
The translation gap
There is a problem, however. Many of these interventions — which teams of researchers can spend entire careers and millions of dollars developing — don’t make it into the hands of practitioners. In Minnesota, we found in 2009 that fewer than three percent of the state’s 20,000 licensed practitioners were trained in evidence-based practices. In addition, a national study estimated that it takes an average of 18 years between the time child-focused evidence-based practices are developed, tested, and make it into the hands of the community.
In other words, we have solutions that we know work but we aren’t using them. The Institute for Translational Research in Children’s Mental Health (ITR), part of the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development, was formed in 2013 to bridge this gap between research and practice in children’s mental health. ITR trains clinicians, social workers, educators, parents and others who work with children to deliver these evidence-based programs, as well as help them document and measure results. The Institute also conducts research, effectiveness training and provides an in-house clinic to train students preparing for a career in mental health services.
We know it is more effective to treat mental health illnesses early in childhood rather than later in life and failing to address mental health issues in children and youth has lasting consequences for individuals, families, and society. And the costs of not solving mental health issues are enormous. The Center for Disease Control estimates these issues cost us $247 billion each year. In Minnesota more than 100,000 youth need treatment for emotional disturbances, a number that rises each year.
ITR serves a key role in bringing the new frontier of evidence-based practices into the hands of those who work with our children day-to-day.