Child functioning in rural and nonrural areas: How does it compare when using the service program site as the level of analysis?

The current study uses data from the national evaluation of the Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children and Their Families Program to examine child functioning in rural (n=8) as compared to nonrural (n=18) system-of-care communities across the United States. In this study, the topic of rural versus nonrural differences is approached from a community-level perspective with aggregated functional impairment scores as the dependent variable of interest in weighted least squares regression. The demographic characteristics of children, particularly age, were more important predictors of functional impairment than geographic locale (ie, rural vs nonrural). Specifically, while children served in nonrural communities were older than those served in rural communities, after controlling for this difference functional impairment levels were similar. It appears from these analyses that youth served in rural and nonrural communities with systems of care were more similar than they were different with regard to their level of functional impairment. This lack of aggregate functional difference between the rural and nonrural sites reminds policymakers and funding agents that youth in rural areas need equity in both access and resource for mental health services. As indicated by the findings in the current investigation youth in rural areas are not immune to the types of mental health challenges often publicized by researchers examining youth in nonrural areas.