Kempe’s Response to the ‘State of Emergency’ for Youth Mental Health

On May 25th, for the first time in its 117-year history, Children’s Hospital Colorado declared a “State of Emergency” for youth mental health. This declaration comes following the release of staggering statistics revealing a 90% increase in youth mental health emergency visits between April 2019 and April 2021.

These statistics give us a glimpse into the pandemic’s frightening impact on young people’s mental health. For the past two years, a persistent level of uncertainty and stress has impacted children and families across Colorado. The ability to feel productive and connected to the community has a significant impact on our emotional health. During the pandemic, these key components of mental health were taken away from us.

The pandemic exacerbated frustrations and anxieties in homes where these emotions were already high. Stressful conditions in conjunction with a marked increase in substance use has put Colorado’s children at risk. During times like these, the work of the Kempe Center is particularly salient.

The experts at the Kempe Center are uniquely positioned to address the urgent needs of this moment. The Kempe Center sits at the intersection of in-the-moment crisis response and building systems to intervene and prevent child abuse and neglect from happening. The traumatic effects of the pandemic are only starting to become evident. In order to support children and families across the state, medical providers, childcare facilities and schools must be prepared to respond to the signs and symptoms of trauma.

Long before we learned of COVID-19, the Kempe Foundation focused on funding work that interrupts the risks surrounding a child linked to childhood trauma. Our Kempe Center experts continue to develop and implement programs that prioritize a more holistic approach to supporting the health and wellbeing of children and families.

Here are some of the ways Kempe Center programs are responding to the State of Emergency for youth mental health:

Serving as an online and in-person resource center

Kempe works to connect youth, teens, families, medical and child welfare professionals, schools, and community partners to resources, tools, and best practices to prevent and treat child abuse, neglect, and trauma.  In addition to services provided by Kempe programs, the Center also provides information on how to access a variety of available community resources when abuse or neglect is suspected:

Trauma-Responsive Implementation and Practice Program (TRIP)

Led by Dr. Evelin Gomez, TRIP’s trauma-informed practice team provides training, coaching and consultation for educators and childcare professionals. These trainings are designed to increase capacity for childcare professionals in schools and care facilities to identify signs and symptoms of trauma and promote healing for children. As children return to school after a difficult year, equipping teachers and educators with this information is an important step to ensure student safety and success.

Stress, Trauma, Adversity Research, and Treatment (START) Center

The START Center is dedicated to providing optimal treatment for people of all ages suffering from the effects of loss, trauma, chronic stress and adversity. Kempe’s partnership with the START Center has played a key role in bringing mental health services to children and families who participate in Kempe Center programs. Throughout the pandemic, the START Center has seen a substantial increase in the number of practitioners and therapists needed to meet the needs of children experiencing multiple traumas – including COVID.

Child Abuse Response and Evaluation (CARE) Network

The Kempe Center was intentional about including behavioral health providers in the second group of trainees for the CARE Network. Accordingly, their training included the impact of the current COVID crisis. By having these conversations with our healthcare providers across the state, we are growing the community of healthcare professionals who can be a valuable resource when signs and symptoms of abuse, neglect and trauma are identified.

As we continue to witness the pandemic’s effects on youth mental health across the state, it is essential that we support the work of the Kempe Center. Experts at the Kempe Center are national leaders in research efforts to evaluate prevention and treatment programs that achieve measurable outcomes for the safety, health and well-being of children and their families. As is evident through Children’s Hospital Colorado’s state of emergency declaration, this work is particularly important today and needs immediate attention, as well as continued financial support.

When you donate to Kempe, you support our work to provide critical funding and support for doctors, social workers, researchers, trainers, policy teams and other professionals working every day to keep children safe and healthy. Click here to donate today.

To get in touch with the Foundation, contact Jon Kruljac, CEO at kruljac.jon@kempe.org. For more information about the Kempe Center, contact Mary Gangel, Marketing & Communications Manager at mary.gangel@childrenscolorado.org.

For the past 49 years, Kempe has promoted understanding, knowledge and best practices to prevent and treat child abuse and neglect locally, nationally and internationally. In 2022, the Kempe Center will celebrate its 50th anniversary. Learn more about the history of the Kempe Center and Kempe Foundation here.