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With one in five children between the ages of five and 17-years-old having a diagnosable mental health disorder, that means an estimated 80 percent, or 7,000 children, are affected with a mental health disorder in Racine County and they are not getting the help they need, according to a report by the Racine Collaborative for Children’s Mental Health.

The group made a presentation at the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread on Sept. 16.

Roger Dower, president of the Johnson Foundation at Wingspread, explained that over 50 organizations have met for two years to develop a strategy to discuss system shortfalls to increase the number of mentally healthy children in Racine County.

“The stakes couldn’t be higher,” Dower said. “Without mentally healthy children, you cannot have a healthy productive community. Yet most mental health challenges in children go undetected, ignored or untreated.”

When those mental health issues aren’t address, there are consequences, said Ashley Staeck, community program associate.

“Children that aren’t mentally healthy and don’t have access to the support services that they need are more likely to be absent from school and perform poorly academically,” said Staeck said.

This sometimes leads to children acting out, which causes a higher rate of suspensions, expulsions, juvenile detentions and self harming. In Racine County, 65 percent of boys and 25 percent of girls in the juvenile justice system have a diagnosable mental health disorder.

The group identified several challenges facing children with mental health issues including poor system and service coordination, multiple barriers to access, high service costs and limited funding, and workforce and service shortage. But it also identified several solutions including having a 24/7 phone line, care organizers, developing a local provider network, increasing in-school mental health services, screening for early detection, and education for teachers and parents.

Dower said the next step requires the community to commit to addressing the issue.

“We cannot wait for others to solve our problems and challenges — not the government, not the private sector and we can’t wait for the school board. We have to tackle them together as a community,” he said.

To learn more about the initiatives, here’s the link to the Healthy Racine Kids website.

Listen to the entire presentation by clicking here.

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Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for Patch.com, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.