OCMH February 2024 Newsletter

Wisconsin Office of Children's Mental Health logo

OCMH Newsletter - February 2024

Infant Mental Health - Newest OCMH Fact Sheet

Brain Image

Infants and toddlers have mental health, just as older children and adults do. Having positive mental health and responsive relationships in early childhood are critical to a child’s health.

The first 5 years of a baby and young child’s life are critical to their brain development. A baby’s brain doubles in size in their first year. By age 3, a child’s brain grows to about 80% of its adult size, and by age 5 it has grown to 90% of its full size.

During these pivotal early years babies and toddlers are rapidly developing brain connections, which are formed through positive experiences and interactions with their caregivers. Healthy, responsive, secure relationships with the adults in their lives is vital to infant and toddler brain development.


What We Can Do


  • Use serve and return techniques to build your child’s brain and develop a secure connection.
  • Support your child’s caregivers’ mental health and your own.

Early Childhood Educators

  • Promote mental health literacy among staff and support their own coping skills/self-care.
  • Embed responsive relationship techniques and social emotional skills into early care culture.


  • Provide long-term investments for infant and early childhood mental health consultation across sectors.
  • Fund recruitment and retention programs to strengthen early childhood education workforce development.

See the Fact Sheet and citations here.


Lived Experience Insights

Kamaria Holland

Kamaria Holland Shares her Insights on Infant Mental Health

 Kamaria Holland is a doula, lactation consultant, and student midwife. She owns Truly Divine Supportive Services, taking care of the family as a whole, with a special emphasis on the parents. As a parent who didn’t have access to the things she needed, her focus is to provide whatever expectant families need as a full-spectrum doula, supporting a family when finding out they are pregnant through post-partum care.


First of all, I have a child who is living with a mental health condition. We’ve had our own struggles and journey with discovering medicine, going through different treatment centers, and such.


Infant and toddler mental health is important because our children are our future. As soon as you find out that there is someone growing in you, it starts there. It’s a connection that is very sentimental and sacred. Everything we do can help our children do better, or we can hurt our children. Our children are really sponges. As parents, we don’t pay enough attention to that. We just feel like it’s a baby. They’re learning as they go, but they are learning every single thing, starting in the womb.


One of the things I’ve seen a lot is our mothers not being well educated around mental health for themselves or understanding that their health is a factor in their child’s mental health. Eating habits, the way you carry yourself, everything is tied together and promotes our children’s well-being and their mental health. All of these things are connected.


Our children, they go through things. As parents, we have to take the time to understand them, pay attention to them, and learn their cues. Sometimes our children talk to us nonverbally. Sometimes they talk to us and we as adults view it as acting out or bad behaviors. It’s more than just my child is bad. There may be something there that as adults we have to take that time to explore, discover more, and be open minded.


There’s not enough recognition on mental health. There’s still a lot of work to do. Infant and toddlers is where it starts. We have all been infants and toddlers. Once we understand that and bring more conversations to our communities about infant mental health, people will understand this is real.


What should parents and caregivers know about infant and toddler mental health? Listen to your babies. Pay attention to them. They tell us stories in many different ways. Sometimes we as parents miss those cues in those stories. We are not perfect, there was not a handbook written on parenting. Every child is different. Be mindful to pay attention to every single thing they do, verbally and non-verbally. It’s a learning experience.


Mental Health Still a Focus for the Governor

Declining MH

Governor establishes Interagency Council on Mental Health

When Gov. Evers announced 2023 as the Year of Mental Health, significant attention was drawn to mental health. In his 2024 State of the State address on January 23rd, Gov. Evers continued his efforts to address the mental health crisis the State of Wisconsin is facing. He announced the creation of the Governor’s Interagency Council on Mental Health. The Council will build on accomplishments made in 2023 by working across state agencies to create a statewide action plan to expand access to mental and behavioral health services, increase prevention, reduce stigma, and build capacity among caregivers, providers, and community partners to address the mental health crisis.


As Gov. Evers said in his State of the State address: “kids continue to report highly concerning levels of anxiety, depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts. That’s still especially true for teen girls, students of color, and LGBTQ kids. One-third of high school kids still experience feelings of sadness and hopelessness nearly every day. About one in ten teens has attempted suicide, and nearly half of LGBTQ youth seriously considered suicide. Today, one in six kids experienced a serious episode of depression in 2023—it used to be one in seven.”


In its work to create a statewide mental health action plan, the Governor’s Interagency Council on Mental Health will:

  • Cultivate cross-agency partnerships and assess mental health programs administered by each department to evaluate gaps in service and help bring programs into alignment.
  • Review current programs, including those developed using American Rescue Plan Act funds, to determine appropriate paths to sustainability or expansion.
  • Develop proposals that effectively and equitably address the root causes of the mental health crisis, create pathways to sustain these interagency partnerships, and develop performance metrics to evaluate the outcomes of these initiatives.
  • Strengthen agency relationships with community partners, including local units of government, school districts, court systems, and others, to build capacity to address the mental health crisis.
  • Collaborate to improve other social determinants that impact one’s mental health, such as access to quality, affordable healthcare, safe housing, food security, financial security, and social connectedness among Wisconsinites.

Read more about the Governor’s Interagency Council on Mental Health and mental health accomplishments the Evers’ administration made in 2023.


OCMH Updates

Feb Convening

Youth Participation in Activities – Focus of February Social Connectedness of Youth Convening

OCMH’s second Social Connectedness of Youth convening in 2024 will focus on Youth Participation in Activities and Children’s Mental Health. You are invited to attend!


Wednesday, February 28, 2024 • 12-1:15 pm • Virtual

Register here.


Youth who participate in extracurricular activities are less likely to report depression and anxiety and more likely to feel they belong. Although Wisconsin kids are participating in extracurriculars, the number has been declining over the last five years.


What you can expect in this convening:

  • Learn why it is important for youth to participate in activities.
  • Hear from two organizations in Wisconsin about how they are successfully connecting youth through their programing.
  • Learn from others. In small group discussions you'll hear from others what they are seeing in their communities regarding youth participating in activities. Come ready to share!
  • Meet others and network.

Our first convening was a success! 42% of participants rated it a 10 out of 10 while 84% rated it 8-10 out of 10. Participants liked collaborating and connecting with others, learning what others are doing, and enjoyed the thoroughness of the presentation. Don't miss our second one!


We want to inspire local work on social connectedness of youth. This convening is open to anyone in Wisconsin concerned about children's mental health and social connectedness of youth. Feel free to share this flyer on the February Convening.

Showcasing Solutions

Showcasing Solutions

There are great things being done in communities all over our state to improve youth mental health. Showcasing Solutions is all about sharing those stories.


See our most recent Showcasing Solutions on the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley. Youth voice and choice is core in the programing they offer at their Club. Towards that end, they offer a range of age appropriate activities and youth choose which they participate in. It is all about each kid having an optimal experience at the Clubs –  Club leadership knows that kids who have an optimal club experience will be more connected to school, have a better outlook, and are less likely to engage in risky behaviors.


To hear the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Fox Valley talk about their program, attend the February Social Connectedness of Youth convening. Register here.

Family icons

Tell Us which Organizations Incorporate Family Voice Well

Lived Experience Partner Parents – please share with us which organizations you have experienced that you feel listened to you and welcomed your voice into the service planning for your child?


OCMH wants to identify a number of organizations that lift up family voice and share their story. We hope this will inspire other organizations to do likewise.


So, please let us know who those organizations are. Click here to tell us.

Youth Listening Session

OCMH Youth Listening Session

Youth and young adults ages 13-24 are invited to share their voice in an OCMH Listening Session exploring how adults can be supportive. There are two times, depending on age:

  • Ages 19-24 – Wed., Feb. 28th, 5-6:30 pm (virtual via Zoom)
  • Ages 13-18 – Thurs., Feb. 29th, 5-6:30 pm (virtual via Zoom)


For information: Click here for a flyer on the Listening Sessions.


To register: The session is open only to youth and young adults ages 13-24. Register here.

Speech bubble

OCMH Explores the Impact of Bias

OCMH will offer a free virtual training on bias by national presenter Judge Derek Mosley on March 25th, 10:30 am-12 pm. The event is open to any professionals or lived experts who want to learn more about bias and how to mitigate it in daily life.


Space is limited. Register here.


Children’s Mental Health Resources from OCMH

Join OCMH’s Andrea Turtenwald, Family Relations Coordinator, to learn about free resources to support the well-being of children, young adults, and caregivers. You’ll also learn about opportunities for lived experts to inform systems change, build their leadership skills, and connect with peers across the state.


Register here. Hosted by the Great Lakes Rural Opioid Technical Assistance Center.

Brain Image

Infant Mental Health Presentation Available

The February 2nd OCMH Collective Impact Council meeting focused on infant mental health. Three guest speakers addressed the topic:

  • Early brain development – Dipesh Navsaria, MPH, MSLIS, MD, Professor – University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health Department of Pediatrics
  • What is being done in Wisconsin to help build infant mental health
    • Supporting infant’s mental health – Lana Nenide, Executive Director – Wisconsin Alliance of Infant Mental Health
    • Supporting families and the workforce – Connie Dunlap, Family Support Manager – Supporting Families Together Assoc.

Listen to the speaker’s presentations.

2023 AR

OCMH 2023 Annual Report Available

OCMH released its 2023 Annual Report in a briefing on January 12, 2024. Rep. Patrick Synder (R-Schofield) and Rep. Jill Billings (D-La Crosse) shared opening and closing remarks. OCMH Director Linda Hall summarized the status of youth mental health in Wisconsin and previewed OCMH initiatives to address youth mental health challenges. OCMH Senior Research Analyst Amy Marsman presented youth mental health data and trends. Read the 2023 Annual Report. Review the 2023 Child Well-Being Indicators Dashboard. View the Briefing presentation


Lived Experience Young Adults Advocate for Better Mental Health

Two high school students shared their stories of mental health advocacy at OCMH’s 2023 Annual Report Briefing. Samera Osman (Reagan High School, Milwaukee) and Nathan Zirk (North Crawford High School, Soldiers Grove) were those students and were recently featured on Milwaukee’s Public Radio. Read about their stories. Hear what they said at the Briefing (beginning at 18:12 in the recording).


Trauma-Informed Care vs. Healing Centered Engagement


Ways to understand youth and the issues they face have included many responses. In the early 1990s experts promoted “resiliency,” which is the capacity to adapt, navigate, and bounce back from adverse and challenging life experiences. In the early 2000s “youth development” took hold as it shifted thinking from viewing youth as problems to be solved to youth being community assets that require supports and opportunities for healthy development.


Trauma-informed Care

More recently “trauma-informed care” has gained momentum as it looks at the impact of severe harm on young people’s mental, physical, and emotional health. Rather than disciplining behaviors, trauma-informed care considers what happened to a child rather than what is wrong with a child and promotes providing services, such as therapy or counseling, to support the child. A trauma-informed approach considers a youth’s disruptive behavior is a symptom of a deeper harm rather than defiance or willful disobedience.


Although a trauma-informed care approach provides a lens to understand young people who have been harmed and emotionally injured, recent thought considers it only focuses on that harm, injury, and trauma. It doesn’t account for the fact that these young people are more than their trauma and what happened to them.


Healing Centered Engagement

A new approach has emerged – healing centered engagement. This approach is holistic involving culture, spirituality, civic action, and collective healing. It requires a different question that moves beyond “what happened to you” to “what’s right with you.” It encourages viewing how those exposed to trauma are/can be involved in creating their own well-being versus being victims of traumatic events.


There are four key elements of healing centered engagement:

  • Communities, and individuals who experience trauma, participate in restoring their own well-being, suggesting that healing from trauma is found in an awareness and actions that address the conditions that created the trauma in the first place.
  • Trauma and well-being are a function of the environments where people live, work, and play. When people advocate for policies and opportunities that address the causes of trauma, they contribute to a sense of purpose, power, and control over life situations.
  • It is culturally grounded, and healing restores identity. It goes beyond viewing healing only from the lens of mental health.
  • It is asset driven and focuses on the well-being we want, rather than symptoms we want to suppress. It acknowledges that youth are more than the worst thing that ever happened to them.
  • It supports adult providers with their own healing.


Over the next few months our newsletter will explore ideas for you to consider in building healing centered engagement in your organizations. Stay tuned!


Legislative & Policy Updates

The legislative session is well underway and Gov. Evers delivered the 2024 State of the State address on January 23.  Evers had previously declared 2023 the Year of Mental Health in recognition of the importance of this burgeoning issue, as his administration has focused added attention and resources on the mental and emotional needs of our state citizens.  


Perhaps unsurprising given Gov. Evers' background as an educator and commitment to the success of the next generation, these efforts have been particularly focused on the mental well-being of our children.


There is also a good deal of legislative activity taking place as the two houses being to work to wrap up formal consideration of legislation by the scheduled April end of regular session.  


Often proposals aimed at addressing similar topics are the subject of work groups and are released and organized by legislators into package of bills that target a similar issue. Several packages related to children's mental health and overall welfare are currently being considered.


Human Trafficking - A bipartisan group of legislators has put forward a series of proposals geared toward better enforcing existing laws, better educating the public, and providing additional protections around the heinous crimes of human trafficking.  (AB 973, 974, 976, 977, 979 – sent to Senate on 2/15/24; 978, 981 – still in Assembly)


Childhood Obesity - Another group of legislators has offered legislation to address childhood obesity concerns and ensure students both learn about physical health and are given adequate time to work out their bodies in addition to their minds. (AB  1013, 1014, 1015, 1016 – recommended by Committee on Healthy, Aging and Long-term Care on 2/15/24; scheduled for Assembly vote 2/20/24)


Truancy - The most fundamental way children can benefit from the resources, security, and structure of our schools is if they are attending.  Several proposals stemming from another bipartisan task force formed to address habitual truancy are being considered including options such as additional parental notice reporting requirements and even potentially preventing grade promotion. (AB 1024, 1025, 1026, 1027, 1028, 1029 – recommended by Committee on Education on 2/14/24)


More Legislation:


Office of School Safety Investment - This bipartisan legislation would provide at least 14 new positions in the Department of Justice's (DOJ) Office of School Safety.  The new positions are funded through fees DOJ collects from issuing concealed weapons licenses and would sunset October 1, 2025. (SB 955 / AB 1050 – Committee hearings were held in February)


Community 4K - This proposal would require school districts to contract with childcare and Head Start programs to provide tuition-free public 4-year-old kindergarten (4K). (SB 973 / AB 1035 – Committee hearings held in February)


Kinship Care Payments – This proposal would include like-kin as an option for families with whom children may be placed out of their home under certain circumstances and who may receive kinship care payments. (SB 520 – Passed 2/15/24)


Crisis Now / Crisis Stabilization Centers - The Centers are intended to address access to crisis services without a hospital emergency room visit or a transfer to Winnebago Mental Health Institute (WMHI). The Centers would operate on a 24/7 basis; provide assessments for physical health, substance use crisis, and mental health; provide screens for suicide and violence risk; offer a first responder drop-off area; incorporate both short-term and more intensive support beds for stabilization; provide care in a calm home-like environment; have specifically trained staff in mental health and substance use; and coordinate follow-up community-based care. The Centers would accept patients on both a voluntary or walk-in basis, accept emergency detentions, accept youth and adults, and provide care in a secure setting.  (SB 462 - Passed 2/15/24)


Of Interest

Black History Month

Black History Month is February

Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by Black individuals and communities and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. The theme of Black History Month 2024 is “African Americans and the Arts.” Learn more about Black History Month. And learn more about Carter G. Woodson, the man behind Black History Month.

Black Youth and Suicidal Behavior Concerning

Across the nation, youth suicides and suicidal behavior are increasing substantially, especially among kids of color. Black youth had the largest percent increase in the last 10 years, with their suicide death rate more than doubling. 

For a look at what’s happening in Wisconsin see OCMH Fact Sheet on Preventing Suicide among Black Youth.

As shown in the chart below, the percentage change from 2012 to 2022 in suicide for Black youth is 128.6. For more information

Youth Suicide

Navigating the Mental Health System

Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) is inviting people to share their experiences in seeking and navigating mental health resources. Share your experience here. (WPR prefaces its invitation with a quote from OCMH's 2023 Annual Report.)

Navigating child care