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Former Milwaukee youth and family center transforms into mental health hub for children, teens

Posted at 5:28 PM, Feb 26, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-27 17:30:51-05

MILWAUKEE — A former youth and family center has transformed into a hub for children and teens who face significant behavioral and mental health issues.

"If we create awareness around mental health, we do break down that stigma," said Dr. Ashley Schoof, clinical director for the STRONG MILWAUKEE Center.

The Holton Youth and Family Center has a new name, and will now be recognized as the STRONG MILWAUKEE Center, a place where children between the ages of five and 14 who struggle with mental health can get the treatment they need.

"They'll come to us for 15 hours a week, three hours a day," said Dr. Schoof.

According to a study done by the Wisconsin Office of Children's Mental Health, almost 60% of students in high school said they experienced depression, anxiety, self-harm, or suicidal thoughts in 2019. About 29% of students said they felt sad or hopeless almost every day. And as the coronavirus pandemic continues, health experts fear those numbers could be even higher.

"The COVID-19 isolation has been particularly tough on them," said Mario Costantini, chair of the Holton Youth and Family Center board of directors.

Officials with the STRONG MILWAUKEE Center say they are the only facility in the state of Wisconsin to see children as young as five years old. They'll address behavioral regulation issues, emotional outbursts, suicidal ideation, and more.

"Our younger children are going to do a lot more play, to realize that they can get the things that they want to stay out, the emotions out. Our older kiddos are doing a lot more talking with their therapist, throughout the day they will do a couple of different groups, social-emotional groups," said Dr. Schoof.

And after having the most violent year Milwaukee has ever seen in 2020, health experts say it's critical that they address these mental health and behavioral issues sooner rather than later in order to break the cycle.

"We talk about how the nervous system reacts to violence or trauma and then what to do with that. It's really important to talk about these things, otherwise we don't affect the cycle," said Dr. Schoof.

If you or someone you know could use these services you can call the center at 800-438-1772, which is open Monday through Friday and accepts family or professional referrals. The center is located at 510 E Burleigh St, Milwaukee, WI 53212.

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