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Current estimates suggest that less than half (40%) of individuals in need of mental health treatment receive services, and of those only a fraction receive treatment with an evidence-base to support its efficacy.

A prime example of this is low income families who are more likely to have a young child with early onset problem behavior (e.g., noncompliance, oppositionality, aggression), yet less likely to have the flexibility of time or resources to effectively engage in state-of-the-field services. This lack of care is an economic and public health issue, given untreated, early onset behavior disorders predict delinquency in adolescence, antisocial behavior in adulthood, and, in turn, up to a ten-fold increase in medical, criminal justice, and educational costs for individuals, families, and society.

There is much in the mental health community regarding the capacity for technology to bridge the research to practice gap. Technology is always evolving, but in work with low income families in particular, Dr. Deborah Jones and her team are currently focusing on smartphones as a delivery vehicle for treatment. Through the Tantrum Tamers app, the team hopes to remotely support families that have children with early onset problem behaviors.

Low income families are most likely to cut the cord on landlines, as smartphones present a viable and relatively cost-effective option by also providing access to functionality that would otherwise be cost-prohibitive (e.g., email, web, apps). Accordingly, Dr. Jones and her research team is examining whether researchers can capitalize on the increased uptake of smartphones among low-income consumers to remotely support and provide feedback to families between weekly clinic-based sessions for early onset problem behaviors. Their aim is to increase the probability that families engage in and complete treatment and, in turn, maximize their opportunity to benefit from services.

Building upon Dr. Jones’ successful pilot study, the research team is currently conducting a fully powered randomized control trial in our Family and Community Clinic on Finley Golf Course Road. The Family and Community Clinic is ideal as navigating campus can be overwhelming for families with young children and the clinic also offers the opportunity to offer free and accessible parking.

Dr. Jones, a Professor of Clinical Psychology, is in the second year of a four-year project period and continue to actively recruit through advertisements, agencies, and providers in Chapel Hill and the Research Triangle more broadly. Although there is still much work to be done, our researchers hope to move technology into the hands of front-line service settings and clinicians serving low income families to increase the reach and impact of services to those who many benefit the most.

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