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Empathy, community key to solving children’s mental-health crisis

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The Orlando Sentinel published a March 27 opinion/editorial piece (subscription required) co-authored by Dr. Rajan Wadhawan, senior executive officer at AdventHealth for Children, and Ken Robinson, president and chief executive officer at Dr. Phillips Charities. The essay focuses on mental health challenges for children and young adults, and how AdventHealth and Dr. Phillips Charities are addressing this growing area of need in Central Florida.


Many adults can communicate with friends and professionals to deal with stress, but children may struggle when they don’t have as deep of a support system.

The COVID-19 pandemic surfaced many anxieties and fears for individuals of all ages. Worldwide conflicts have kept anxiety levels high. As these issues continue, our Central Florida community now faces a potential mental and behavioral health crisis, especially among children and young adults, requiring our immediate attention and partnership.

Many adults can communicate with friends and professionals to deal with stress, but children may struggle when they don’t have as deep of a support system.

Florida is the 49th-ranked state in per capita funding for mental-health services and has only 19% of the psychiatrists it needs. The shortage of mental-health providers is a problem everyone in our community must face as we all seek to improve body, mind, and spirit.

AdventHealth for Children and Dr. Phillips Charities are developing the Center for Advancement and Support of Youth (CASY) to address this opportunity to heal. This will be a first-of-its-kind comprehensive pediatric and young adult mental and behavioral health program in Central Florida. When fully implemented, CASY will provide up to 10,000 child and adolescent visits to pediatric health professionals on an annual basis.

And the need is real. Recently, the Orlando Sentinel published an article declaring an urgent, nearly $50 million need to fix a “broken” mental health care system in Orange County. The research analysis, prepared for Orange County government by Heart of Florida United Way, highlighted shortcomings in the community’s mental and behavioral health system that has been stretched to the limit during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

Currently, Orange County has less than three child and adolescent psychiatrists for every 10,000 children under the age of 18. There continues to be a severe national shortage of child and adolescent psychiatrists, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Only about 20% of children with mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders receive care from a specialized mental health care provider. CASY seeks to change that statistic for the better.

Since its founding at the turn of the 20th century, Dr. Phillips Charities has been a major economic and philanthropic presence in our communities, contributing more than $212 million in grants, pledges and program-related investments to Central Florida charities in Orange and Osceola counties. In addition to its generous gifts for education, social services, arts and culture in our region, for nearly seven decades Dr. Phillips Charities has helped make health care available to the underserved minority population in Central Florida. Dr. Phillips Charities continues to provide financial assistance to health-related organizations, such as AdventHealth, to advance health-care innovation and access.

Recognizing some individuals bear a greater burden of mental stress based on socioeconomic disparities, it’s easy to see why mental health has captured our collective attention. It is imperative that we continue to recognize and respond to this growing population in need of mental-health services.

Excellent organizations such as the Mental Health Association of Central Florida, IMPOWER and the Grace Medical Home, just to name a few, are making great strides in closing the gap between those who need mental-health services and the availability of mental health providers. With your help and support, more children will get the attention and mental health support they deserve.

If you’d like to help advance the development of mental health services for children in Central Florida, please visit

Dr. Rajan Wadhawan is the senior executive officer of AdventHealth for Children. Ken Robinson is the president and CEO of Dr. Phillips Charities.

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