A nationwide study by a University of Vermont researcher found that children who are victims of shootings are not getting mental health care when they need it most.

The study found that physicians are reporting that mental health services in response to children being injured by a firearm are lacking. It’s a trend that Dr. Christian Pulcini, Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine and Pediatrics at UVM, would like to see reversed.

“Pediatric firearm injuries are the leading cause of death and injury and disability in children, in general across the country,” says

Pulcini, the lead researcher on the study and an emergency room physician, says over 11,000 children were injured by a gun in 2020. But he notes not much is known about the services provided after the injury.

“We have seen a lot of children come through the emergency department and come through the ICU, who are discharged, and then come back with mental health issues later,” he said. “We wanted to try and close that gap to support better services; so better identification of the mental health issue at the time of the injury.

The study involved 2,600 young people, ages 5-17, from different backgrounds. Most were wounded in accidental shootings. Pulcini’s group found that two-thirds of those children were not connected to counseling up to six months after injury.

“You have to think that this is probably an access problem,” he said. “There is a childhood mental health crisis going on across the nation right now. I think most people know that, and part of it has to do with access to mental health services.”

The study calls for new policies on a larger level to improve identification and access.

“It’s also a community need,” he said. “I wish that we could better prevent all of these issues, and hopefully, the more research that shows the longitudinal effects of firearm injuries on kids including their mental health, the better we get at protecting kids at having a firearm injury in the first place,” Dr. Pulcini says.

The study proposes increased mental health screening while the child is still recovering from an injury and broadening access counseling nationwide.