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Nonprofit sees uptick in Kansas City students needing mental health services

Surge in mental health needs among young children
Posted at 8:07 AM, May 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-20 09:07:49-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — May is mental health awareness month, and a Kansas City nonprofit says their mental health programs are in high demand among younger children.

Staff at James Elementary, which is part of the Kansas City, Missouri, Public Schools, are concerned for their students' mental health.

“As an administrator for the past almost 20 years, I have never seen the level of mental health concerns at this early stage,” Josie Herrera, principal at James Elementary, said.

Each student is different, but Herrera and her staff think the stress their children are feeling is a trickle down effect of the pandemic.

“I think the pandemic has had a lot to do with that when families don't have what they need, when their family is stressing about making that rent money or the grocery money, and they have to make those hard decisions of where to put their focus of their family finances,” Herrera said. “Children feel that, they absolutely understand when their parents are stressed.”

The Mattie Rhodes Center is a short, quick walk from James Elementary. The nonprofit works directly with the school and also offers therapeutic and social services free of charge, but they’re running on overtime.

Social workers and therapists with the center are seeing upwards of 18 children at a time, and each worker has a wait list of more than a dozen children seeking help.

“A lot of anxiety, depression, especially from coming off of COVID-19,” Anna Francis, a therapist with Mattie Rhodes, said. “They were so isolated in their house, and not having the outlet for speaking to people being with kids their own age, and then just that yearning for attention.”

The majority of these students come from low-income families, and more than 80% are learning English as a second language. Mattie Rhodes is one of two nonprofits in the metro that offers bilingual services.

“We definitely are taking advantage of that and being within a neighborhood that is highly Hispanic population, a multi-faceted population and having the cultural competency language lines to help other families here as well,” Angela Florez with Mattie Rhodes said.

However, this mental health crisis isn’t just exclusive to James Elementary. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says children respond to how parents react to what’s around them and offered some of the following tips to help parents keep track of their child's mental health.

They say look for:

  • Excessive crying or irritation in children
  • Excessive worry or sadness.
  • Unhealthy eating or sleeping habits.
  • Unusual behaviors

“They're so young, and they shouldn't be having to deal with these like big people problems,” Francis said. “It's hard, especially when you hear some of the stories of these kiddos coming from abusive families and the trauma, and sometimes I have to step out of the room and try to compose myself because I can't fully be there for them."

While the fight against the pandemic continues, Herrera says if it wasn’t for Mattie Rhodes, her school would lose a compass in navigating through this difficult time.

“I think if tomorrow the superintendent said Mattie Rhodes is no longer at our school, it'd be a huge deficit,” Herrera said. “In our school from supporting the mentor kids that just need those those touch points to our families that need resources.”

The Mattie Rhodes Center is asking for donations, and you can give back by visiting their website.