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
July2017
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.

Outcomes & Lessons Learned:


  • Developed and grew a coalition to connect organizations and engage parents/caregivers and community voices to lead collective efforts to address youth mental health
  • Launched the Mental Health Community of Practice, bringing together Community Health Workers and parents/caregivers to inform community-driven efforts to improve youth mental health
  • Leveraged the strength of the coalition to secure funding to open the Next Step Clinic, which provides family navigation, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) medical evaluations and therapies for young children and their caregivers, reaching more than 200 families since 2019

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