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Improving care for kids and teens

Children's Hospital of Wisconsin created first-of-its kind innovations to respond to the mental health crises among teenagers.

of young lives changed
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Children's Wisconsin, a nationally ranked pediatric hospital, wanted to improve mental health care for children and adolescents.


Deep insight into the actual experience and needs of parents and children led to expanded access, a crisis care hotline, digital resources, and a first-of-its-kind mental health urgent care clinic.


The innovations in mental health care at Children's Wisconsin has impacted thousands of teenagers in need and and garnered national media attention.

Children’s Wisconsin wanted to know exactly where to focus the resources from a $20M gift given to address the highest rates of childhood anxiety, depression, and suicide in the US. They asked us to help them understand the needs and experiences of parents seeking mental health care for their children, and begin to image how the funds might be deployed for maximum impact.

Is stigma around mental health care a barrier?

The donor of the generous gift wondered if stigma was keeping parents from seeking professional help for their anxious and depressed kids. Children's Wisconsin considered this: would a massive, state-wide, anti-stigma campaign be the most effective way to use precious funds to get kids the help they needed?

Through ethnographic research with parents and children who sought and did not seek mental health care, we were able to uncover the context and motivations around a parent’s decision to reach out for help.

One thing was crystal clear: stigma is not a significant barrier to treatment. Ironically, a parent’s own ‘energy reserves’ and the complicated path to access and scheduling proved to be the strongest barriers. Parents would wait until the bottom dropped out of their own energy reserves before seeking care for their child. When they did so, they encountered a care system that could be complex and slow to navigate.

Imagining better care pathways

Because of our findings, Children’s redirected millions of dollars from an anti-stigma campaign that could have exacerbated the problem into innovative services that meet the real needs of parents and children:

  • A first-of-its-kind, walk-in behavioral health clinic
  • An integrated, mental health crisis hotline
  • Web-based resources for parents developed with deep awareness of true barriers to care

A nationally recognized program

The innovations at Children's Wisconsin have garnered national attention, including a segment on 60 Minutes.

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