Mental health assessment for young children

Age-appropriate assessments are a key component of providing effective infant-early childhood mental health services. The Washington State Legislature created policy to support Apple Health providers in offering best clinical practices for mental health assessments for children birth through age five (see RCW 74.09.520). This page helps advocates and partners stay informed on work to implement these policies. 

If you are a provider or biller, and want to learn more, visit the Mental Health Assessment for Young Children provider page

Want to stay updated on work related to mental health assessment for young children?

Background

Approximately 1 in 6 young children has a diagnosed mental, behavioral, or developmental disorder (Cree et al., 2018). These disorders, if properly identified using diagnostic criteria relevant to infant and early childhood development, can be effectively treated. Appropriate assessment leads to more effective treatment and reduces behavioral, school, and physical health risk factors over the long term. 

The infant-early childhood mental health (IECMH) community in Washington state worked for several years to advance policies supporting developmentally appropriate assessment for young children, especially those enrolled in Apple Health (Medicaid). To learn more about these efforts, review the timeline of advocacy for Mental Health Assessment for Young Children

What did the legislation do?

To support best clinical practices for the birth through five population, policy changes were needed within the Apple Health program. In April 2021, 2SHB 1325 Sec(2)(11) was signed into law, initiating several statewide policy changes that took effect on July 1, 2021.

HCA must:

  • Allow reimbursement for up to five sessions for mental health assessment.
  • Allow reimbursement for mental health assessments in home or community settings, including reimbursement for clinician travel.
  • Require clinician use of the Diagnostic Classification of Mental Health and Developmental Disorders of Infancy and Early Childhood (DC:0-5™).

Reimbursement policies

Beginning January 1, 2022, all Apple Health mental health professionals who provide mental health assessments to children birth through age five became eligible for reimbursement for up to 5 sessions for the mental health assessment. These providers became eligible for reimbursement for travel to home and community settings for these sessions.

Learn more about reimbursement and billing. Visit the Mental Health Assessment for Young Children provider webpage for billing guidance regarding new reimbursement policies.

Supporting the use of the DC:0-5TM

The Diagnostic Classification of Mental Health and Developmental Disorders of Infancy and Early Childhood (DC:05TM) is the internationally accepted system for developmentally appropriate assessment of young children's mental health, and is recommended as a best practice by both CMS and SAMHSA. The DC:0-5™ uses developmentally specific diagnostic criteria that reflects mental health disorders that are typically diagnosed in infancy and early childhood.

To support mental health professionals in providing culturally and developmentally appropriate assessment and diagnosis, and in adopting the DC:0-5™, the HCA is taking steps to build workforce knowledge and capacity, create tools to support mental health professionals' practice, and to align internal policies.

DC:0-5™ Crosswalk

The DC:0-5™ is recognized as the clinically appropriate manual for diagnosing infants and young children but, in our current behavioral health system, other diagnostic manuals may still be necessary. For Apple Health providers, federal Medicaid guidance requires that all claims be submitted with an ICD (International Classification of Disease) code. Many mental health systems may also require a DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) diagnosis in the documentation of services.

To support the use of DC:0-5™ in their practice, many providers refer to a tool called a DC:0-5™ crosswalk. A DC:0-5™ crosswalk is a reference guide for clinicians that helps to convert DC:0-5™ diagnoses to associated ICD diagnostic codes and DSM diagnoses. 

In partnership with a work group of members of the infant-early childhood mental health (IECMH) community. HCA published an Apple Health DC:0-5™ crosswalk in October 2022. To access the crosswalk and resources that support its use, please visit the Mental Health Assessment for Young Children provider webpage.

DC:0-5 training

Because providers may not receive training in providing culturally and developmentally appropriate assessment and diagnosis for infants and young children (including training on the DC: 0-5™ manual) as part of their education, additional professional development is needed to support implementation. In 2021, the legislature allocated funds to provide free DC: 0-5™ training and professional development supports for Apple Health mental health and allied professionals.

These trainings and professional development supports are provided through the Infant-Early Childhood Mental Health Workforce Collaborative (IECMH-WC). In March 2022, HCA awarded the contract for the IECMH-WC to the Washington Association for Infant Mental Health (WA-AIMH). WA-AIMH will coordinate DC:0-5™ trainings and professional development supports, from June 2022 through June 2023. To learn more about DC:0-5™ trainings and other professional development opportunities, please visit IECMH-WC's About DC:0-5 webpage.

If you have questions about the IECMH-WC, please reach out.

DC:0-5TM in clinical records

Maintaining accurate clinical records is an important component of high-quality mental health services, including mental health assessments. However, providers serving young children may experience challenges translating clinical record guidance for adults, youth, and older children into developmentally relevant criteria. For this reason, HCA, in partnership with the Department of Health, will be convening an Infant-Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) Clinical Records Work Group. This group will develop a resource to support in translation of current guidance on diagnostic assessment statements in WAC 246-341-0640(c) into developmentally appropriate equivalent criteria. To learn more about the work group and other clinical record resources, please visit the Mental Health Assessment for Young Children provider webpage.

Project updates

Mental health assessment for young children is an evolving project. Please check in regularly for new updates. 

MHAYC Implementation Survey

Successful implementation of new policies can take time and require support and guidance. Therefore, HCA has launched the MHAYC Implementation Survey to understand how organization and providers are implementing these new policies, and what additional supports may be needed. The survey will run through November 18, 2022, and a report of survey results is anticipated to be released in Winter/Spring 2023.

MHAYC Community presentation 

HCA hosted a community presentation on July 21, 2022 about the past year of implementation of MHAYC.  The presentation outlines the shared progress, lessons learned, and details on what is coming up next. 

Bulletin updates 

HCA sends periodic bulletin updates on implementation progress. Sign up for the Prenatal - Age 25 Behavioral Health GovDelivery to stay informed. Recent bulletins are linked below, and older bulletins are available upon request.