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Advocates: Investments in mental health consultation needed

Tuesday, April 30, 2019  
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April 30, Wisconsin Health News

Infant mental health advocates are asking lawmakers to invest in having mental health providers team up with preschool and child care workers.

Lana Nenide, executive director of Wisconsin Alliance for Infant Mental Health, told members of the Wisconsin Legislative Children’s Caucus last week that an estimated 9.5 to 14.2 percent of children under age five experience an emotional or behavioral disturbance.

Those disturbances can lead to pre-school expulsion, and those expelled have an eight times higher rate of later being incarcerated. “We have ways to stop that,” Nenide said during a caucus meeting last week.

One way is by having mental health providers work with teachers and staff to support emotional development. Teachers with the support often report 50 percent fewer expulsions, according to Ashley Bowers, clinical coordinator for the alliance.

“We’re talking about children whose behaviors are often linked with traumas they may have experienced,” she said. “We’re able to do it in a much more effective and evidence-based way that has a ripple effect that saves us money long term.”

Bowers said that policymakers should support healthy infant courts, which put infants at the center of the court process.

She also said the state could build capacity for consultation across care systems. Having it billable through Medicaid could help too.

“We need to invest because we know it’s going to cost us more later on,” she said. “We need to invest because we know it’s effective.”