On a recent summer night, 7-year-old Judah Ganiere sat at the dinner table with his parents and four siblings in their Sherman Park home.
He led them in an exercise he calls “the moustache.” You extend your pointer finger, place it under your nose and do some deep breathing.
It’s one of many lessons Judah has learned at STRONG Day Treatment Program, year-round intensive mental health counseling offered in schools through Christian Family Solutions, or CFS.
Since 2008, CFS has assisted more than 3,500 students and their families by offering outpatient counseling services in 18 Milwaukee schools.
“When he first started struggling, it just came out of left field,” said Judah’s mother, Charonne Ganiere. She and teachers first noticed that Judah was experiencing social and emotional challenges in 2018.
Though hesitant at first about enrolling her son in outpatient therapy, Ganiere said she saw Judah connecting with the CFS staff in a way he hadn’t with previous therapists.
“That was a huge confirmation to me that this is where he needed to be,” she said.
Since then, Judah has built a whole toolbox of coping skills with STRONG, which stands for Successfully Treating and Reaching Our Next Generation. Now in its third year, the program has served over 200 students.
Students attend group and individual therapy that is at little to no cost for three hours a day, five days a week. Parents receive daily communication on their child’s progress and can also attend family therapy.
Keeping kids STRONG
Counseling at STRONG focuses on behavioral intervention in youth healing to help students become more stable and academically successful.
Two-thirds of all students experience a traumatic event before they reach the age of 16, according to a study by the American Psychological Association.
In addition, students of color face greater barriers to quality mental health treatment, according to the Kids Forward report, “Meeting the Mental Health Needs of Wisconsin’s Children.”
“Trauma-informed care takes into account these intense experiences,” said Ashley Schoof, the program director at Wisconsin Child & Adolescent Services and a therapist who works with Judah at STRONG.
Having CFS programs available in schools and online enables the services to be more accessible to parents and students who might otherwise not get the help they need, she said.
The most recent local and national acts of racial violence have added another layer of stress for Schoof’s students.
“They’re striving to understand what’s going on around them,” she said. “We’re providing a space to reflect, listen to the pain of those around us and to help and heal those in the community.”
When schools moved to remote learning because of the coronavirus in mid-March, CFS shifted to all online sessions. Without the transportation barriers that previously kept some families from receiving services, CFS saw an increase in student enrollment and parental involvement in their child’s experiences online.
Schoof said “that has really bridged the gap that we couldn’t address before.”
Students are most successful when their families are more involved in the programming, Schoof said. She has seen “the ripple effect” of how providing care to one child can affect the entire household and community.
Since the summer began, STRONG Day Treatment Program has continued virtual services and has been able to resume with physically distanced, in-person group counseling for 28 students at St. Marcus Lutheran School’s North campus, 2215 N. Palmer St.
CFS leaders plan to reach more students this school year. A $100,000 grant from Bader Philanthropies will allow CFS to place five counselors in schools and expand programming.
“We know it is of utmost importance that we maintain our school counseling and STRONG programs because in some cases we are these students’ last hope for treating trauma in their lives and remaining in school,” said Mark Klug, chief executive officer of Christian Family Solutions, in a news release. “The expansion of services will help us continue to address students’ underlying issues and help them become better students and contributing members of their community.”
For more information
Learn more facts about the STRONG program or call 262-293-9747 to speak to a staff member about referring a child to the program. Children can be referred by their parents, school or outpatient providers.