Mental health services help young people process trauma so they can focus on thriving.

By Renae Storey, Vice President Southern Region at Brightpoint, formerly Children’s Home & Aid and Adam Woehlke, Director of Behavioral Health Services at Hoyleton Youth & Family Services | October 9, 2023

Childhood and teenage years are an exciting time during our development as humans. We are learning new skills, experiencing new moments, and gaining independence. Those years are pivotal for the people we become in adulthood. Those exciting moments can also come with confusion, trauma, depression and anxiety, and for many children and youth, this can be detrimental at home, in their community and particularly at school.  

There is a need for comprehensive youth mental health programming in Illinois

Governor Pritzker’s 2023 “Blueprint for Transformation” plan on improving behavioral healthcare for Illinois children reports that nearly 40 percent of all young people in Illinois who experienced major depressive episodes were not able to receive mental health services last year. Brightpoint, the nonprofit child and family service organization formerly called Children’s Home & Aid, is a founding member and co-chair of the of the Youth Mental Health and Wellness Coalition of St. Clair County, formerly the St. Clair County Youth Coalition. Coalition members work to improve the coordination and impact of existing services while also amplifying youth mental health needs to generate greater awareness and investment for holistic supports. Earlier this year, the Coalition held meetings to hear from providers, youth, and family members about challenges within the youth mental health system, resulting in a Systems Barrier Map. With a collective understanding of the challenges, the Coalition is advancing strategies to bring about needed change with and for young people.

Community-based mental health services help students heal and teachers teach

Research shows that trauma affects the brain by causing it to “go offline,” sending a person into self-protection mode when triggered. This trauma response keeps youth from accessing the part of the brain that works to process and retain information correctly. In school, the traumatized youth’s behavior can also affect their classmates’ ability to focus and learn. We know trauma is affecting our kids’ ability to learn, grow and face the future with confidence, but there are things we can do to help them heal.

Like the Youth Coalition, Brightpoint recently rebranded from Children’s Home & Aid to emphasize our focus on prevention-based programming, family centered services. These services include youth mental health services for children, starting with children as young as six. In our Safe and Thriving Families program, our staff work with children ages six through twelve who have experienced trauma in their home, school or community. We provide individualized services aimed at healing past trauma for families living in Cahokia Heights, Belleville, Washington Park and East St. Louis. We help youth, their families and communities understand the effects of trauma and provide counseling to build coping skills and resiliency, and work with many other organizations, in the community, like Hoyleton Youth & Family Services, to provide additional services families may need. Hoyleton Youth & Family Services offers community, virtual office and school-based counseling for youth and families struggling with trauma, anxiety, depression, substance misuse and other behavioral issues. Hoyleton Youth & Family Services has dedicated clinical staff working with individuals across their lifespan to meet individuals at their level of need, taking a person-center approach to their mental healthcare.

Our shared belief in the importance of strengthening a community network to improve the mental well-being of our children and youth drives us to promote the work of the Coalition.

Let’s work together to help our students get the mental health services they need

The Office of the US Surgeon General reported that it takes an average of 11 years for a young person with an identified mental health condition to receive treatment across the nation. Brightpoint, Hoyleton, and other members of the Youth Coalition provide access to resources to ensure that every young person experiencing mental or behavioral health problems in our communities can access needed services. As a collective, we will achieve this by coordinating services among partner agencies, strengthening the workforce through partnerships and supporting prevention and upstream intervention.

Illinois is heading in the right direction, but we cannot get distracted.

The Youth Mental Health and Wellness Coalition of St. Clair County identified that gaps in resources and staff is the most prominent barrier affecting mental health access for youth. Governor Pritzker’s “Blueprint for Transformation” plan calls for creating a centralized resource for families seeking services for children with significant and complex needs and fortifying community networks by investing in local communities and parent leadership. The report also noted that children’s mental health systems of care are best implemented in smaller regions where individual relationships between child-serving system leaders, provider partners and community members can be developed and nurtured.

In the initiative’s next step, the state will produce a plan in October to guide work on statewide mental health services for children and adolescents. We are optimistic about this next step and support the Governor’s office to continue making youth mental health and wellness a priority. Our children’s and youth’s academic success and success in life depends on it.

Renae Storey is Vice President of the Southern Region for Brightpoint, formerly Children’s Home & Aid, a child and family service organization serving over 30,000 children, youth and families a year in 67 Illinois counties.

Adam Woehlke is Director of Behavioral Health Services at Hoyleton Youth & Family Services, a youth and family organization providing emotional and mental health services for every stage of youth and family development.

Renae and Adam are co-chairs of the Youth Mental Health and Wellness Coalition of St. Clair County.