Communities across Wisconsin are facing barriers in access for mental health treatment. For children who are still developing, these barriers can have life-altering implications.

Last Wednesday, I had the privilege to visit and learn more about Northwest Passage, an organization providing residential youth mental health care here in western Wisconsin.

Northwest Passage has campuses in Frederic and Webster in addition to group homes in Hayward and New Richmond. Each year, they serve around 300 children and employ 180 individuals including counselors, teachers, psychologists, and support staff.

While I toured the campuses, what impressed me most was the incorporation of art therapy and sports to address trauma. In Fredric, Northwest Passage has a gym and helps girls compete against regional high school teams. For some girls, this was their first time playing on a team. In Webster, the campus is planning to offer a gallery where local artists can work rent-free in exchange for teaching art to these kids.

Many of these children have experienced multiple traumatic situations and have been in multiple foster homes. Research has repeatedly shown that children experiencing adverse, traumatic events are at increased risk of incarceration, decreased lifetime earnings, and lowered life expectancy.

Innovative programs like the ones provided by Northwest Passage invest in our children so that they can respond to trauma and grow up to be successful adults.

At a time when Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake School, Wisconsin’s juvenile correctional facility, has come under fire for its dangerous conditions for youth and staff - resulting in an FBI raid and federal court rulings against the Department of Corrections – Northwest Passage reminds me that we can do better.