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Washburn Center’s Training Institute teaches mental health professionals how to best help kids

One of his organization’s goals is to spread information about best practices for supporting children and families, said Tom Steinmetz, Washburn’s chief operating officer.

Washburn Center for Children has a national reputation for providing quality care, said Matt Witham, Training Institute co-director.
Courtesy of the Washburn Center for Children

Since the organization’s inception, mental health professionals at Washburn Center for Children have helped thousands of Minnesota kids and their families cope with a wide range of learning and behavioral problems. Washburn’s programs are well respected: This spring, an evaluation conducted by the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare at the University of Minnesota reported [PDF] that “children served by Washburn Center benefit greatly throughout their treatment services,” and that caregivers reported that, “the social, emotional and behavioral functioning of children served at Washburn Center improved in clinically meaningful ways over the course of treatment.”

Many decades spent helping children realize their full potential means that staff members at Washburn Center have built a wealth of collective knowledge about what treatment methods and interventions work best. Tom Steinmetz, Washburn’s chief operating officer, said that one of his organization’s goals is to spread information about best practices for supporting children and families. Many children face psychological trauma and need help, Steinmetz said; there aren’t enough people trained to provide the best interventions.

“We know there is a big workforce-training need in mental health. There is also a big need to provide better access to training in evidence-based and informed treatment models, both for mental health professionals and professionals in related fields like education and health care to help them better understand the mental health needs of children, so they can better assist kids who are living with anxiety or trauma.”

In 2013, Washburn Center was able to further advance the goal of spreading information about best practices in children’s mental health when the nonprofit was awarded a $3 million grant from United Health Foundation. The funds were intended for the launch of a nationally recognized children’s mental health training program to be based at Washburn’s Minneapolis headquarters. The program, known as the United Health Foundation Training Institute at Washburn Center for Children, is in its second year of operation, providing training opportunities for mental health professionals.

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Starting in 2014, the United Health Foundation Training Institute has sponsored several trainings for professionals directly engaged in the support of children’s mental health.

“During the first two years or the training institute,” Steinmetz said, “we’ve provided over 18,000 hours of training and consultation to 817 professionals from 23 different states. We’re doing what we can to help fill a gap that’s clearly out there.”

Matt Witham
Washburn Center for Children
Matt Witham

Washburn Center for Children has a national reputation for providing quality care, said Matt Witham, Training Institute co-director. That reputation — combined with a bit of networking, outreach and promotion — has helped to draw participants to the organization’s first training offerings.

“We have had quite a bit of interest locally and nationally,” Witham said. “One of our first trainings was led by a nationally recognized trainer that does trauma-informed child and parent psychotherapy. We offered that training free to the community, and we got tremendous attendance. It’s really exciting to see that people are willing to travel across the country to get the training we’re offering.”

Training topics in the first years of the institute were varied, Witham said, with a focus on topics of current interest, including motivational interviewing and trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy.

The range of offerings was intentional, Steinmetz said: “We’re trying to bridge the gap between what we know has been effective with kids and how people learn to provide those services.” The first two years of Washburn trainings were all held in-person at remote locations, at Washburn Center or live-streamed using technology provided as part of the United Health grant. (Part of the grant included funding for technology and expanding training space at Washburn’s Minneapolis headquarters building.)

Tom Steinmetz
Washburn Center for Children
Tom Steinmetz

Earlier this year, Washburn Center produced a series of online trainings that participants can download and participate in remotely. This further expands the center’s reach. 

“We created a suite of seven online trainings,” Steinmetz said. “They are all now available through our website. Our goal is to reach as many professionals as possible.”  So far, the program has had a “soft and quiet” rollout, he added: “We haven’t done a more publicized launch yet. That will be coming later this fall.”

An online training series, titled “Foundations in Children’s Mental Health,” is available for purchase on Washburn Center’s website.

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Upcoming in-person trainings at the United Health Training Institute at Washburn Center for Children include Motivational Interviewing Skill Practice (co-hosted with People Incorporated), on April 28;  Honoring Non-normativity: Attending to Dominating Discourses in Therapeutic Practice (co-hosted with Kente Circle), on May 20; and Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) , September 15-17. Dates for two other upcoming trainings — Developmental Repair; and PracticeWise – Managing and Adapting Practice (MAP) are yet to be determined.