Milwaukee Coalition for Children's Mental Health

Advancing Behavioral Health Initiative Phase II: Reducing discipline referral rates for young school children in Milwaukee Public Schools

Full Project Name:Milwaukee Coalition for Children's Mental HealthPrimary Community Organization:Mental Health America of WisconsinPrimary Academic Partner:Michelle Broaddus, PhD, Psychiatry and Behavioral MedicineAward Amount:$999,839
Award Date
Project Duration:60 months

Project Description Narrative:

Advancing Behavioral Health Initiative Phase II

Unmet mental health needs at young ages can manifest in externalized behaviors, often resulting in school disciplinary actions. Office Discipline Referral (ODR) data is commonly used to assess needs and evaluate strategies aimed at addressing behavioral problems among school-age children. Exclusionary discipline can put children at additional risk for poor outcomes, exacerbating mental health and behavioral problems and resulting in a vicious cycle of poor school engagement, low academic achievement, and participation in the workforce. Therefore, working to identify ways to support children exhibiting these behaviors in other, non-punitive ways may impact positive health and educational outcomes.

In Milwaukee, wide disparities exist in ODR rates for African-American students (30%) compared to white students (9%). Research does not suggest that mental health issues that manifest in behavioral problems are any more prevalent among African-American boys, in particular. The striking disparity suggests that this subgroup is being disproportionately affected. This project aims to reduce the Office Discipline Referral rate in Milwaukee Public Schools for children in pre-K through 6th grade by 25% by the 2021/22 school year (from 20% to 15%, or a reduction of approximately 2,500 students by Year 5 of Phase II).

Project strategies include:

  • Utilizing community support workers to support 2,500 families annually in navigating culturally-appropriate, family-directed services
  • Developing and implementing a continuum of parent leadership and cross-sector professional development opportunities to increase parent engagement and support the mental, emotional, and behavioral health of Milwaukee's children ages 0 through 8
  • Promoting children's optimal social-emotional development by expanding parent-led developmental screening to 50% of children ages 0-5 in Milwaukee and utilizing findings to enhance early intervention services

This project is part of AHW's Advancing Behavioral Health Initiative, an eight-year, $20 million initiative bringing together 10 community coalitions from across Wisconsin to address pressing mental health needs within their communities. The initiative is designed in three phases, providing a funded planning year, a five-year implementation period, and a two-year sustainable transformation phase.

Project Updates:

  • Created coalition of area partners, expanding to more than 90 active members across more than 60 organizations. Established communications and engagement opportunities for coalition partners, including a bi-weekly CCMH newsletter, regular conveneings, trainings, and virtual meetings
  • Expanded engagement of Community Health Workers (CHWs), Family Navigators, and Peer Specialists as members of the coalition, with 75 CHWs engaged on various levels
  • Established a Community Health Worker Community of Practice and a Family Leader Learning Community, merging the two in 2020 to help guide and shape the coalitions' work
  • Launched a Workforce Development Workgroups to focus on developing learning sessions focused on the CCMH-developed Core Competencies for the Community Health Worker Community of Pracitce, Family Leader Learning Community, and other partners
  • Launched a website ( to increase visibility, outreach, dissemination and engagement with the coalition
  • Trained 25 faculty members from the Wisconsin Technical College System in infant and early childhood mental health, early childhood brain development, and historical/intergenerational trauma and epigenetics
  • Supported the development and creation of The Next Step Clinic, opening the clinic in October 2019 to provide screening, assessment, and family navigation service. Established a Next Step Clinic Community Advisory Board and launched training for board members in screening toddlers for ASD concerns; supported clinic in partnering with the Institute for Child and Family Wellbeing to laucnh free Parent-Child Interaction Therapy for families of children 2-6 years old
  • Became first in the state to pilot the Early Start Denver Model to support children with Autism and behavioral challenges
  • The project has received $468,930 in leveraged grant funds and an additional $75,000 in in-kind support

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8701 W Watertown Plank Road,
Milwaukee, WI 53226-0509
(414) 955-4350