March 2024 Newsletter

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OCMH Newsletter - March 2024

Healing Centered Engagement - Start by Building Empathy

Healing Centered Engagement

In last month’s OCMH newsletter we began a series examining a new approach to understanding youth and the issues they face – Healing Centered Engagement. This approach is holistic involving culture, spirituality, civic action, and collective healing. It differs from a trauma-informed care approach by shifting away from asking “what happened to you” to “what’s right with you.” By doing so, people who have experienced trauma are not viewed from the perspective of the worst thing that ever happened to them and victims of their trauma. A Healing Centered Engagement approach encourages those exposed to trauma to be involved in creating their own well-being. 

In this series on Healing Centered Engagement we will explore ideas for you to consider in building Healing Centered Engagement in your organizations. This month we will look at building empathy with young people.

Building empathy is important

Fostering empathy strengthens emotional literacy and helps young people open up about and process their feelings. It requires building trust with young people, is ongoing, takes time, and may fluctuate—sometimes the adults may feel like they have taken two steps forward only to take three steps backward.

Tips to create empathy

To better understand the young person, focus on building social connections with them. Ideas on how to do that include:

  • People working with youth can share their story first. Take an emotional risk by being vulnerable, honest, and open with young people. Sharing first creates an opportunity for adults and youth to find similar or shared experiences, and that, in turn, builds empathy.
  • Practice listening without judgment. Show young people that they can be themselves around a trusting and caring adult.
  • Cultivate connections with young people. This means getting to know young people for who they are. Ask them about their favorite shows, what they like to do on weekends, what makes them laugh. Adults can also try to find other points of connection, such as shared allegiance to a sports team or a favorite musician.

Look for our April newsletter for more on building Healing Centered Engagement in your work with youth.

Lived Experience Insights

Jenene Duenke

OCMH is privileged to know and work with many remarkable individuals with lived experience in children’s mental health. In this newsletter we’ve asked Janene Duenke, Department of Children and Families (DCF) Parent Leader in Child Welfare, to answer three questions about support and coping strategies.

Tell us about a time when you felt supported by another person.

I felt supported during a parent leader and lived experience focus group. One particular group allowed me to voice my ongoing concerns with my situation and be able to recognize where we could do better while working with child welfare. We agreed on coming up with improvements – solutions that were realistic and acknowledged how I can do my best as a parent. I felt better knowing the changes we worked on provide my children with a mom that has support and, therefore, knows how to maintain safety in my household.  It helped to hear a DCF employee say they are working on a system that helps people not “get stuck” while relying on state programs that we know don't work cohesively. 

When is the last time you asked for help?

The last time I asked for help was calling a shelter and asking for housing. I am able to meet my basic needs while being in the shelter, receive assistance with following up on housing waiting lists for my next move to get into permanent housing, and don't have to worry about having enough food. While here, I also reached out to a peer support specialist for additional support to manage the stress of homelessness, and I started working again.

What is your go-to coping strategy?

My go-to coping strategy is 5,4,3,2,1. When I need to refocus and “get out of my head” I can easily think differently after doing this: Look and think of 5 things I can see, 4 things I can touch, 3 things I can hear, 2 things I can smell, and 1 thing I can taste. It is a way for me to pause. If I am still worked up, listening to favorite songs, singing, and dancing help the most.  

       - Janene Duenke, DCF Parent Leader in Child Welfare

OCMH Updates

March Convening

March Social Connectedness of Youth Convening – The Power of Supportive Adults

Supportive adults play an important role in the well-being of our youth. OCMH’s March Social Connectedness of Youth Convening will dig into this topic. It will take place:

Wednesday, March 20, 2024 • 12-1:15 pm • Virtual 

                                     Register here.

Here’s what you can expect in this convening:

  • Learn about the data on the importance of supportive adults for youth well-being.
  • Hear from one organization in Wisconsin doing intentional work in providing supportive adults to youth.
  • Learn from others. In small group discussions you'll hear from others what they are seeing in their communities regarding supportive adults for youth. Come ready to share!
  • Meet others and network.

This is OCMH’s third Social Connectedness of Youth Convening, and the response from attendees has been very positive. Those participating value the small group discussions where they have the opportunity to learn from others across the state as to what they are doing to improve children's mental health and well-being. Comments from the February Convening share what participants liked best:

  • “Talking with people in different communities to see how they are able to help youth and what they have to offer.”
  • “It was so well balanced with data, panel examples, breakout, best practices, etc. This was phenomenal; it engaged both my heart and mind; and built participants mindsets and skillsets.”
  • “Meeting people from other areas and backgrounds.”

These convenings are open to people and organizations concerned about children's mental health in Wisconsin. Feel free to share our flyer on the March Convening. 


Showcasing Solutions

Telling stories of great work being done in children’s mental health across Wisconsin is what OCMH's Showcasing Solutions is all about. At OCMH we want to highlight this! Check out our Showcasing Solutions web page for these stories.

You can look forward to the March Showcasing Solutions that will share what the La Crosse Area Family YMCA is doing to connect youth to supportive adults. The March Showcasing Solutions will be available on the OCMH website March 20, 2024. And you can hear from the La Crosse Area Family YMCA at the March Social Connectedness of Youth Convening on the Power of Supportive Adults for Youth on March 20th, 12-1:15 pm. Register here.

Collage of Children

Mark Your Calendar – May 5-12 is Children’s Mental Health Week

Each year one full week in May is dedicated to focusing on children’s mental health. In recognition of this, OCMH is planning a number of things to draw attention to this important topic. Look for more information in the April newsletter.

Brain icon

Infant and Toddler Mental Health Fact Sheet Available in Spanish and Hmong

OCMH’s most recent Fact Sheet on Infant and Toddler Mental Health was released in February and is now available in Spanish and Hmong. See all OCMH Fact Sheets here.  

Family voice

What Organizations are Incorporating Family Voice Well?

OCMH wants to hear from individuals who have navigated children’s mental health services as to which organizations are doing a good job at involving their voice in the service planning for their children. OCMH wants to identify a number of organizations that lift up family voice and share their story. So, people with this lived experience, if you have experiences with organizations that you feel listened to you and welcomed your voice into the service planning for your youth, please complete our survey. The survey is open through March 15th.


Explore the Impact of Bias

OCMH will offer a free virtual training on bias by national presenter Judge Derek Mosley on March 25, 2024, 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.

Legislative & Policy Updates

Child Care Tax Credit. On March 4, Gov. Evers signed AB 1023, now 2023 Wisconsin Act 101, that expands the child and dependent care tax credit from 50 percent of the federal credit to 100 percent and increases the maximum qualifying expenses that may be claimed for one qualifying individual from $3,000 to $10,000 and for two or more qualifying individuals from $6,000 to $20,000. The change applies for tax year 2024. The high cost of child care contributes significantly to parents’ financial stress, which is absorbed by children and contributes to their anxiety.

Office of School Safety Funding. AB 1050 would fund the Office of School Safety and its Speak Up Speak Out (SUSO) hotline January 1 - September 2025. The funding and position authority in the bill would allow continued operation of the office while the 2025-27 budget is being considered. The SUSO hotline has responded to more than 10,000 calls, many of which were from students identifying threats to their school or themselves. The Office also offers threat assessment consultation, critical incident response, and school safety guidance. The bill passed the Assembly and is awaiting action in the Senate.

Conversion Therapy Prohibition. Defined as any intervention or method that has the purpose of attempting to change a person's sexual orientation or gender identity or expressions of that identity, conversion therapy would be prohibited by this bill.  The bill, however, does not prohibit counseling that assists an individual who is seeking to undergo a gender transition or who is in the process of undergoing a gender transition; counseling that provides a client with acceptance, support, understanding, or counseling that facilitates a client's coping, social support, and identity exploration or development. SB 1065 was referred to the Senate Committee on Licensing, Constitution and Federalism. Supporting youth’s gender identity by using their preferred names and pronouns has been demonstrated to reduce anxiety and suicide.

Human Trafficking. The bipartisan series of proposals geared toward better enforcement of existing laws, better education of the public, and provision of additional protections around the heinous crimes of human trafficking were recommended by 7-0 votes at the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee on February 27. (SB 940, SB 942, SB 946, SB 954, SB 960)

Missing & Murdered African American Women and Girls. This measure that would create a task force on missing and murdered African American women and girls passed the Assembly and was messaged to the Senate. The Senate Committee on Mental Health, Substance Abuse Prevention, Children and Families recommended passage by a vote of 5-0. It now awaits a vote of the entire Senate. (AB 615 / SB 568)

Of Interest

March Acknowledges Women’s History, Social Workers, and Developmental Disabilities

  • Women’s History Month – Since 1987 March has been set aside to celebrate women’s contributions to history, culture, and society in the United States. This year’s theme celebrates “Women Who Advocate for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion.” Many institutions across the county are commemorating and encouraging the study, observance, and celebration of the vital role women have played in American history. We encourage you to research this topic sometime during the month. Here is one site with inspiring stories.
  • National Social Workers Month – Celebrated each March, Social Work Month provides an opportunity to pause and reflect on the vital role social workers play and celebrate the profession of social work. This year’s theme is “Empowering Social Workers! Inspiring Action, Leading Change.” Learn more and access the National Association of Social Worker’s social media toolkit and other resources.
  • Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month – Each March the National Association of Councils on Developmental Disabilities and their partners create a social media campaign to raise awareness about the inclusion of people with developmental disabilities in all facets of community life. This year’s theme is “A World of Possibilities.” Learn more.


Plan Now – April is Family Strengthening Month in Wisconsin

April brings together organizations and individuals focused on strengthening families. The mission is to focus on the strengths families can draw on to build a safe and nurturing family environment. The Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board has a number of resources on their website to help organizations in supporting family strengthening in April, including the 2024 Family Strengthening Month toolkit and social media posting calendar.

Behavioral Health Strategy Guide Available

Ten communities across Wisconsin worked together to create the Behavioral Health Strategy Guide, an online resource with mental health strategies that focus on school-based strategies, community-based strategies, and other resources communities can create.

The Behavioral Health Strategy Guide showcases work conducted by the Advancing Behavioral Health Initiative (ABHI) with practicable suggestions and actionable insights to improve behavioral health in Wisconsin communities. The project aims to further the shared missions of raising awareness, reducing stigma, and building capacity to create sustainable change. Departments, organizations, and individuals can use the resources to implement strategies to help improve mental health in their communities.

Learn more. Read the strategies. See the participating coalitions.  

LGBTQIA2S+ Practice Community

Beginning in April, the Wisconsin Department of Children and Families Division of Safety and Permanence will host a new practice community for providers of group care focused on creating a supportive and affirming environment for LGBTQIA2S+ youth. Participating agencies will develop practical tools and resources in taking immediate steps to strengthen their agency's practices.

Learn more and register. Registrations are due March 21, 2024.

DPI Roadmap 2

Roadmap for School Mental Health System Improvement

The Department of Public Instruction’s Wisconsin School Mental Health Framework provides a vision for building more equitable, comprehensive, and integrated systems to promote well-being in schools. The Roadmap for School Mental Health Improvement outlines five steps to engage in quality improvement: commitment, assessment, planning, implementation, and reflection. The roadmap uses the principals of improvement science to move teams forward in their efforts to build more comprehensive systems. See the Roadmap for School Mental Health Improvement.

Unconscious Bias