Mental Health Service Interventions for Left-behind Children in Mainland China: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials

Miao Wang, Rebeccah Sokol, Hui Luan, Brian E. Perron, Bryan G. Victor, Shiyou Wue - Children and Youth Services Review



Left-behind children (LBC) are an at-risk population in China with emerging mental health needs. This study aimed to systematically review experimental studies of interventions that promote mental health wellbeing of LBC in mainland China.


We reviewed both English and Chinese language studies published from 2000 to 2019 via a comprehensive search involving the databases PubMed and two database aggregators (ProQuest and EbscoHost) plus China National Knowledge Infrastructure. We retained empirical articles if they involved randomized controlled trials of mental health interventions focused on LBC in mainland China.


We included twelve studies in our review. Across the twelve studies, various intervention formats--including group-based services, sports activities, holistic nursing services, and a combination of multiple formats--improved LBC’s mental health. The primary helping professionals included research teams from universities, teachers from local schools, and multidisciplinary teams. Social workers were not involved in any intervention.


This review found that, although the field is new, the limited set of studies suggests that interventions might improve the mental health of LBC. The evidence base, however, is relatively poor in quality. The current state of the science calls for more wide-spread dissemination and rigorous evaluation of mental health interventions for LBC.