Children with special health care needs face challenges accessing information, support, and services

Publication Date:

February 13, 2020

In this brief, Child Trends examines the most recently available comprehensive data on children and youth with special health care needs (CYSHCN) and their families. We find that, compared to their peers without special health care needs, CYSHCN, as a group, are more likely to experience circumstances that pose challenges to their well-being. The extent of the disparities we found suggests that CYSHCN and their families are at risk for adverse outcomes in economic, academic, and social-emotional domains—in addition to health. Moreover, racial and ethnic disparities in access to opportunities and supports exacerbate the inequities that CYSHCN and their families experience.

We used the 2016-2017 National Survey of Children’s Health (NSCH) to analyze national- and state-level data on access to and quality of health care and other types of services for CYSHCN in the context of the broader literature, including NSCH findings from previous years, U.S. Department of Education data on special education services, and Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) data. In addition to our top-level findings, our analysis of data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia illustrates widely varying outcomes for CYSHCN, depending on the state in which they live.

Key Findings