MARSHFIELD – The Wisconsin Afterschool Network (WAN), a program of Marshfield Clinic Health System, has received a $480,000 contract from the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families (DCF) to support children’s mental health in out-of-school time, summer, and afterschool programs. This funding comes in response to the mounting mental health crisis for children and youth and the subsequent need to support caregivers and professionals who care for them on a daily basis.
National and state data highlight alarming trends around the increase of mental health challenges for children and youth. In 2019, one out of three high school students reported persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, according to the national High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey, and these figures are thought to have increased since the pandemic. Suicide rates are also on the rise. According to Wisconsin Department of Health and Human Services’ 2020 Statewide Health Assessment, 16% of Wisconsin youth surveyed had seriously attempted suicide and suicide was the fifth leading cause of death among children aged 5-14.
With these trends has come a new wave of attention on the school day and traditional mental health interventions, increasing funding for schools and access to mental health providers. Providing mental health care and resources outside of school hours continues to be a challenge.
“Caring for kids’ emotional well-being is as important as caring for their physical health,” said Dr. Kelsie-Marie Offenwanger, Health System child and adolescent psychologist. “We often see stress and worries masked by aches and pains. This can lead to more doctor’s visits, missed days from school, and ultimately avoidance of the issue at hand. What I have noticed when working with kids and families is that it is not the bruises on the body that hurt the most. It is the injuries on their heart and mind. Instead of hiding our feelings, we want to teach kids that it is okay to talk about what they are thinking.”
While the current mental health system supports heavy investment in acute care, which addresses concerns after mental health worries have arisen, those working directly with children are identifying the need for increased investments on the front end. All children and youth will benefit from early intervention and efficient assessment and referral in partnership with those who serve them every day.
“There isn’t anybody out there who doesn’t have a mental health issue, whether it’s depression, anxiety, or how to cope with life and relationships. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary,” Offenwanger said.
WAN, in partnership with the Health System’s Center for Community Health Advancement, will use DCF’s investment to invest in immediate mental health support by creating a number of learning opportunities and resources for providers, caregivers, and children.
WAN plans to create a Regional Learning Collaboration to support afterschool staff, which will promote immediate action around mental health needs in programming through trauma informed behavior guidance. This effort will bring local organizations and youth programs together to solve common problems. Webinars and a technical assistance center also will create resources and education opportunities for afterschool caregivers and schools immediate access to non-therapeutic interventions that can have an impact on mental health. These efforts place value on the coalescing of resources to maximize the impact of funding and the coordination of vital services.
“Having good mental health at a young age allows children and youth to reach developmental milestones and grow socially,” said DCF Secretary Emilie Amundson. “We are extremely grateful for the partnership with the Wisconsin Afterschool Network and appreciate the commitment of the Governor and the Joint Committee on Finance to fund these critical supports. We truly are stronger when we work together on behalf of children, youth, and families in Wisconsin.”
The Wisconsin Afterschool Network (WAN) is the state-affiliate of the national 50 State Afterschool Networks and works with policymakers to create a sustainable structure of high-quality afterschool and expanded learning programs for Wisconsin children and youth. Wisconsin Afterschool Network is housed out the Marshfield Clinic Health System’s Center for Community Health Advancement and served children across the state.