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As schools address mental health crisis, Gov. Tony Evers wants to expand programs

Posted at 11:42 AM, May 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-10 08:51:45-04

Thousands of Milwaukee area children are going without necessary treatment for mental healthcare.

The lack of access is being called a crisis by parents and doctors. The crisis is so bad; some families are waiting as long as two years to get help.

“Do you think the state, up until now, has done a good job of tackling mental health when it comes to children?” asked Elise Preston with TODAY'S TMJ4.

“I would answer no, but I would answer no nationally too,” replied Governor Evers.

“People don't know, you just don't what the child is feeling, you have to help them,” said Mom Shlea Carter. She fought back tears as she talked about her fight to save her daughter’s life.

17-year-old De'Ajia struggles with anxiety and depression. She's battled for years, but last May, a phone call would make those troubles tougher.

De'Ajia’s father had been murdered out of state.

“It broke her. She wanted to die. She tried to kill herself, it was rough. That's my child, I wanted to do everything in my power to protect her,” expressed Carter.

But the mom couldn't. Carter says she struggled to find a professional to help manage her daughter's mental health. The working mom's schedule did not make the search any easier.

“It would make it unattainable most days. I have to work it's just me, I have bills. I work third shift, I work at night. She is in school during the day,” explained Carter.

Carter turned to De'Ajia’s school for help.

To her surprise, Milwaukee High School of Languages had a working relationship with therapists from Children’s Hospital.

It's part of the district's School Community Partnership for Mental Health Program, where licensed professionals from community organizations are physically in the schools.

“We can refer down the hallway. We have a therapist right there,” said Travis Pinter, who oversees mental health services for Milwaukee Public Schools.

Pinter says the program not only provides access for children and their families, it also reduces the stigma in getting help; because the students are not disrupting their school day.

“Mental health facilities have had a stigma, this is something that we are always working with. Now, I’m more inclined to go in and see you,” said Pinter.

Right now, Only 22 schools in MPS actually have the program. The district would like to see it expand, especially with an ongoing child psychiatrist shortage.

Currently, 49 counties in Wisconsin don't have one single provider at all.

In Governor Tony Evers' current budget proposal, he wants to boost mental health services in schools by more than 700%, giving children that access to care.

“It’s not some place we want our kids to be. It's got be a very lonely and frightening experience. Whatever we can do to change that is important

As the state's former superintendent, Evers believes Wisconsin schools are the best place for children to start to heal.

“Once that's at play, it impacts their entire lives. The sooner we address it, the better we are off,” Evers said.

TODAY'S TMJ4 also reached out to Assembly Speaker, Republican Robin Vos. Vos released the following statement:

“Republicans have made significant investments and important statutory changes in the past several budgets to increase access to mental health treatment in schools. In the current budget, we created two aid programs for the reimbursement of student mental health services and connecting students to providers. In addition, we’re providing funding for targeted mental health services and counseling in five elementary schools in Milwaukee. Republicans also established mental health training grants for educators and expanded the child psychiatry consultation program. I’m confident we’ll continue our commitment to mental health services in the next budget.”