Evaluating the Prevalence of Child Psychosocial Concerns in Rural Primary Care

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Child psychosocial concerns in rural areas are assumed to be greater than national averages due to mental health provider shortages, however, there is minimal empirical support for this claim. The present study aimed to replicate findings showing a higher prevalence of child psychosocial concerns in rural areas. In addition, this study evaluated six distinct definitions of “rural” to determine whether the operational definition of rurality was associated with prevalence of psychosocial concerns. Caregivers presenting with their child at 8 pediatric primary care sites (N = 2,672) completed a demographic questionnaire and the Pediatric Symptom Checklist (PSC). Logistic regression models tested associations between operational definitions of rurality and prevalence of clinically significant child psychosocial concerns. Multiple logistic regression models were used to test additional independent effects of maternal education level while controlling for child age. The effects of rurality on prevalence of clinically significant psychosocial concerns were inconsistent across the 6 measures of rurality; when significant, however, effects were small and in the opposite direction than hypothesized. These findings highlight discrepancies in results based on disparate operational definitions and measures of rurality. When rurality was associated with child psychosocial concerns, children in more highly populated areas reported more psychosocial concerns than children in smaller rural areas.