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Specialized Child and Adolescent Behavioral Health Programs at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh

December 3, 2021

Child and adolescent behavioral health care is a complex, multidimensional, and multidisciplinary field requiring integrative models of care, services, and support for the individual patient within the context of dynamic familial and societal concerns.

To achieve optimal patient and family outcomes of care for child and adolescent behavioral health patients, two world-class hospitals — UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital and UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh — work in concert to provide innovative behavioral health programs and services across the entire continuum of care for a diverse patient population, both inpatient and outpatient, on a population-health basis. 

Few institutions in the United States have the comprehensive care capabilities of an internationally recognized children's hospital with dedicated behavioral health programs for children and adolescents, combined with a distinguished academic research, training, and clinical hub for psychiatric services.

Below are details on some of the advanced and specialized child and adolescent behavioral health services available at UPMC Children's and through its outpatient and community practices network. Partnerships and collaborations with hospital divisions, such as the Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine Division, led by Elizabeth Miller, MD, PhD, help expand access for patients and families to specialized behavioral health services and models of care. This includes gender affirming care, as well as care for youth struggling with eating disorders and substance use disorders. 

Leading the behavioral health programs at Children’s is Abigail Schlesinger, MD. Dr. Schlesinger is an associate professor of psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She is chief of the Behavioral Science Division at Children’s and medical director of Outpatient Behavioral Health and Child and Family Counseling. She is also an Executive Committee Member of UPMC Children’s Community Pediatrics. Dr. Schlesinger directly runs many of the programs specific to Children’s and oversees the hospital’s entire spectrum of behavioral health services. An overarching goal of Dr. Schlesinger’s clinical and research work is a commitment to improving patient access to behavioral health support through integrated care models and multidisciplinary studies.

SMART Choices Program

The Substance Motivational Interviewing and Referral to Treatment (SMART) Choices program, jointly run by the Behavioral Science Division and UPMC Children's Community Pediatrics, acts as the first line of defense in screening for and intervening against potential substance use in children and adolescents. The program's goal is to head off long-term consequences of alcohol and drug misuse and assist families and their children struggling with substance use and its effects on physical and behavioral health.

The SMART Choices Program has expanded in recent years. Through collaborative work with hundreds of pediatric providers, the program has improved its ability to conduct interventions for children at risk for substance use disorders. 

Additionally, the program has a new focus on training behavioral health providers, parents, and schools to use the same terminology concerning how to help youth and families struggling with substance use. This initiative will help to identify gaps in services and to direct and facilitate prompt care.

UPMC Children’s TiPS

The TiPS line at Children’s is designed as a consultation service to help primary care clinicians – PAs, MDs, and CRNPs – connect with child psychiatrists. The program aims to improve behavioral health treatment for children by providing psychiatric consultation to physicians, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and other providers of psychotropic medications.

Child and Family Counseling Center

The Child and Family Counseling Center (CFCC) provides evidence-based behavioral health treatments to children/adolescents and their families. The program works closely with community pediatricians, medical specialties, schools, and families to provide family-centered behavioral treatments, teaching children and families skills to minimize distress and maximize wellness. CFCC staff members have experience providing cognitive-behavioral individual or family-focused therapies across a range of disorders or conditions.

Embedded Behavioral Health In Community Pediatric Practices Expands Patient Access

Some UPMC Children's Community Pediatrics practices provide multidisciplinary behavioral health services. These services, which are embedded within the network’s offices, treat children with a variety of behavioral health issues, improving their quality and function of life within the home and community. The collaborative team of pediatricians, psychologists, therapists, and psychiatrists work together to provide complete evaluations of psychiatric disorders and brief, evidence-based treatment within the pediatric office when necessary.

Embedded Behavioral Health Services in Subspecialty Clinics

Within many of the subspecialty clinics at Children’s, the child and adolescent behavioral health division has embedded services to support the ongoing care of many complex and chronic conditions that can have significant behavioral health consequences or comorbidities.

Complex and challenging conditions, such as transplantation, diabetes, pediatric cancers, neurodevelopmental disorders, and complex congenital heart lesions, can lead to significant behavioral health needs – acute or chronic.

Providing expert and timely behavioral health visits and follow-ups alongside the patient’s routine care and clinic visits for their underlying conditions streamlines care, improves access, and ultimately can improve outcomes. Children’s has behavioral health components embedded in more than two dozen subspecialty clinics and centers throughout the hospital.

Diabetes High Fidelity Wrap Around Project

The Diabetes High Fidelity Wrap Around Project, an ongoing study and intervention, is led by co-investigators Justin Schreiber, DO, MPH, a child and adolescent behavioral health specialist, and pediatric endocrinologist and diabetes specialist Ingrid Libman, MD, PhD. The project is designed to improve diabetes management and outcomes in high-risk children and adolescents with type 1 diabetes (T1D). This project tests the adaptation of an evidence-based, High Fidelity Wraparound (HFW) process that was initially developed and used in the behavioral health community to teach and empower patients and families to better self-manage their behavioral health conditions. 

HFW features a comprehensive, holistic, and patient-centric approach. Children’s is partnering with the Youth and Family Training Institute (YFTI) at UPMC Western to adapt and refine HFW for use in children and youth with T1D at Children’s. The management of T1D in children and adolescents can be challenging for patients, families, and the providers who treat them. The reasons for this are well documented in literature and are multifactorial, however stress and associated behavioral health issues are significant contributors to difficulties with adherence and poor control. The Diabetes High Fidelity Wrap Around Project extends diabetes care beyond the individual and the family, and beyond strictly focusing on optimal glucose control. Rather, the study recognizes that T1D is a community disease for young patients and their families. Schools must become involved and understand the needs of the individual. Anyplace where the child spends time must be equipped to understand, meet the needs, and help manage the condition.

Learn More

Learn more about the full spectrum of behavioral health services available to patients and families from UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and its partner UPMC Western Psychiatric Hospital.

Contact and Referral Information

To refer a patient or for additional information about any of the child and adolescent behavioral health programs and clinics at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, please call 412-692-8351 or 724-933-3910. Visit the UPMC Children’s Pediatric Behavioral Health Program’s website at