Research shows that COVID-19 is taking the greatest mental health toll on children and teens ages 11 to 17. Demand for counseling and treatment for this age group is high and growing. Washington’s Mental Health Referral Service for Children and Teens receives about 20 calls a day from families needing help, and the wait time to be connected to an available provider in their community is currently about 9 weeks. The service is adding more staff in January and hopes to bring wait times down to the two-week level of this summer.

“We recommend families not be daunted by the current wait and call us right away to start the process,” says Ana Clark, manager of the Partnership Access Line program (PAL). “We provide education over the phone and can get them started on the right track. Some families are able to find providers on their own after our initial guidance and recommendations. And for those families who need a little more help, they will be added to our wait list and helped as soon as we are able. Our goal is to help families as quickly as possible.”

The family’s first phone call, which adds them to the queue, is just 5 to 10 minutes long. The number to call is 833-303-5437, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The free service connects families with local mental health providers who will accept their insurance and have availability to take on new patients.

Since opening 15 months ago, it has connected with over 4,000 families across 28 counties in Washington State. Families have rated the service a 4.9 on a 5.0 scale for saying they would recommend the service to other families. Over 2,400 child mental and behavioral healthcare resources have been added to its database since its inception.

The service is funded by the Washington Healthcare Authority and operated in collaboration with Seattle Children’s PAL program.