Caring for mental health needs of city children

Through the Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin (AHW) endowment and its Healthier Wisconsin Partnership Program, the Medical College of Wisconsin is dedicated to improving the health of the state’s residents. MCW is building partnerships throughout Wisconsin to create healthier communities.

More city school children are getting the mental health treatment they need thanks to a collaboration led by the Medical College of Wisconsin (MCW) and the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS).

The “School Community Partnership for Mental Health”, funded in part through the Healthier Wisconsin Partnership Program of the AHW endowment, breaks down barriers to learning caused by mental illness and trauma. The program connects students and families at four participating MPS schools to mental health professionals who provide services regardless of a family’s insurance status.

It’s estimated that four out of five MPS students are impacted by trauma, violence, poverty and homelessness. One in five students is likely struggling with a diagnosable mental illness. “These problems lead to physical health issues, depression and anxiety, which affect academics, school attendance and behavior,” said Dena Radtke, MPS Coordinator for School Social Work Services. “Families want help but many are hampered by a lack of accessible resources, health insurance and even citizenship.”

School staff and parents identify students in need of mental health services. Community health workers support and enhance relationships among families, school staff and therapists. “We take extra steps to ensure that families actually make it through the therapists’ office doors,” said community health worker Carrie Koss Vallejo. “If we need to, we will pull up a map and dictate directions as parents are driving their children to an appointment.”

Community health workers also assist in the planning of activities that support parents and guardians, such as monthly coffee breaks to discuss mental health topics and job fairs. “It’s not just mental illness. Joblessness, poverty and homelessness have a trickle-down effect on children,” said community health worker Dana Wilson. “That kind of stress has a negative effect on behavior and learning.”

Sheri Johnson, PhD, leads the evaluation of the project, which measures changes in academic performance, attendance and behavior among students receiving services. The number of children receiving mental health services has jumped from an estimated 5 percent before the project began to 55 percent by the second year of pilot implementation.

The MPS schools are Audubon Technology and Communication Center, Wedgewood Park International School, Hopkins Lloyd Community School and Oliver Wendell Holmes School. The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is helping to provide academic evaluation. Community mental health
partners include Aurora Family Services, Pathfinders and Sebastian Family Psychology Practice. Other partners include the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, IMPACT Planning Council, Rogers InHealth, Medicaid HMOs and several city, county and state public health officials.

Dr. Johnson is Assistant Professor of Pediatrics with the MCW Center for the Advancement of Underserved Children.
In addition to MCW’s HWPP grant, funding comes from MPS Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative, Charles E. Kubly Foundation, Faye McBeath Foundation, Greater Milwaukee Foundation,and the Women’s Club of Wisconsin.


MCW Annual Report 2013 Read more about MCW’s Healthier Wisconsin Partnership Program at


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