A healing place for children

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January 16, 2012
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Washburn Center for Children planning new treatment center on Glenwood for children with mental illnesses

The Washburn Center for Children, a mental health center based in the Whittier neighborhood, is planning a major expansion and drafting plans for a new campus near the International Market Square on Glenwood Avenue.

The plan calls for a 50,000-square-foot building designed to be a state-of-the-art treatment center on a 2.5-acre site at Glenwood and Dupont avenues. Pending fundraising efforts, groundbreaking will be in 2013 with an opening planned for the following year, said Steve Lepinski, executive director of the Washburn Center for Children.

Washburn is in the midst of a $21 million capital campaign to raise money for the new facility. Currently, the center occupies about 27,000 square feet of space in two buildings on the 2400 block of Nicollet.

In recent years, the center has been growing at a fast pace. It serves about 2,500 children a year — an 81 percent increase in the number of children helped compared to 2005. The size of the agency has also doubled.  

Washburn’s new building will serve an important need in the community and allow the treatment center to increase its capacity. The metro area has four major hospitals focused on children’s physical health, but no such place devoted to children’s mental health issues, Lepinski noted.

“Children’s mental health is a critical issue for our community,” he said. “Several hundred thousand kids have social and emotional behavioral problems that interfere with some aspect of their lives and keeps them from being happy and successful. And only about one out of five kids that have mental health problems get the help that they need.”

Washburn is a leader in the Upper Midwest in the treatment of children with mental illness and the training of clinicians. It trains between 60 and 70 interns each year — from undergraduate students to Ph.D. candidates, said Linda Smith, director of development and external relations for Washburn.  

“That is how we have a broader impact — the commitment to train children’s mental health practitioners,” she said.

So far, Washburn has raised $2 million for its capital campaign with another $8–$10 million pledged by donors, Lepinski said.

The center has also launched an advertising campaign called “Break the Silence” created by Haberman, a Minneapolis-based media and marketing firm. The goal is to raise Washburn’s visibility in the community and awareness of children’s mental health issues.

Advertising featuring children and notable local personalities, such as Walter Mondale, Ann Bancroft, Tubby Smith, Don Shelby and Jeff Passolt, will appear in print ads and playbills, on billboards and bus ads through the spring.

As for the new building, Washburn has hired local architect Mohammed Lawal to design the building. Early illustrations show an L-shaped building heavy on glass to maximize natural light and elements of nature throughout the space. Lawal has tapped Richard Louv, author of “Last Child in the Woods,” as a design consultant for the project. Louv is an expert on the connection between nature and improved mental health of children.

Washburn was founded in 1883 as the Washburn Memorial Orphan Asylum. Today it serves children with a wide array of social, emotional and behavioral problems. Common issues patients are treated for include anxiety, Attention Deficit Disorder, depression and behavioral problems related to traumatic episodes. Patients range from infants to teens.

Most of the children treated at Washburn live in Hennepin County and roughly 55 percent are low income. The center subsidizes its budget with philanthropy since Medical Assistance reimbursement rates fail to fully cover the cost of treatment. The budget for 2012 is $8.5 million, Lepinski said. Just under $700,000 will come from donations.

Washburn’s services include day treatment programs, in-home services, outpatient therapy, preschool outreach, case management and school-based mental health services, among other care options. Besides its Minneapolis location, it has offices in Minnetonka and Brooklyn Park.

Since only about 20 percent of kids get the help they need, according to Washburn estimates, the impact on the community is significant.

“[Mental illness] robs children of a happy childhood,” Lepinski said. “It stresses families enormously and it costs us as a community millions of dollars in services because we didn’t do a good job on the front end identifying and addressing the problems.”

Reach Sarah McKenzie at smckenzie@mnpubs.com and on Twitter @smckenzie21.