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The Austin Child Guidance Center Supports Mental Health in Childhood

Project Overview

Addressing mental health and emotional needs is critical for a child’s development. Mental well-being plays a critical role in relationships with family and peers, school readiness, academic achievement, and life outcomes.  

Yet children growing up in poverty experience more stressors and have higher rates of mental disorders as adolescents and adults than more affluent children. Working poor families have significant barriers to care such as lack of health insurance, transportation, and language barriers and therefore many children experiencing mental health issues often go without care.   

We partner with the Austin Child Guidance Center (ACGC) to ensure that children and families from low-income backgrounds receive quality, affordable mental health care. Through early intervention, diagnosis, and treatment, this support helps children develop the emotional skills to face life’s challenges. 

With support for emotional needs in childhood, children develop the healthy emotional outlook that will serve them into adulthood.

Nichole Aston, Program Manager, Pathways to Prosperity

How it Helps 

Realizing that children communicate needs through behavior, it’s not surprising to see the impact of mental illness show up at daycare or in the classroom. As previously mentioned, there are many barriers that can prevent children from low-income homes from receiving the treatment they need. 

Children with mental illness have lower school attendance, are more likely to be held back in school, and are more than three times as likely to be arrested before graduation. Half of all educational achievement gaps exist upon a child’s entry to kindergarten, and children from low-income families with multiple risk factors are more likely to begin school with social and emotional problems that inhibit learning.   

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study links traumatic childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect, separation from a parent, substance abuse, and mental illness in the household as major risk factors during childhood and for the leading causes of illness and poor quality of life in adulthood.  

Strengthening support for families can go a long way towards increasing treatment options and reducing risk factors, to help children get a strong start. At the same time, supporting the emotional needs of children helps improve their mental health and social-emotional skills during childhood, while also developing the healthy emotional outlook that will serve them into adulthood.  

Addressing Critical Needs  

Services provided by the ACGC include:

  • Individual and Family Therapy: Therapists at ACGC work with children experiencing trauma, grief, depression, mood/anxiety disorders, and other emotional health needs. The center’s therapeutic model uses evidence-based practices that facilitate healing and developmental progress. 
  • Group Therapy: To develop skills for positive peer relationships, children work in groups to practice managing conflict, negotiating social situations, and reaching consensus.  
  • Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health: The Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health Project (IEC) provides mental health consultation for childcare staff, parents, and children in child development centers in Austin/Travis County to promote school readiness and improve the social and emotional health of at-risk children (ages 0 to 5) from lower income families.  

Other services include psychological assessments, psychiatric evaluations, and parent workshops. Additionally, ACGC’s Walk-In Clinic provides assistance for children and their families who need immediate attention with no appointment required. This type of therapy fulfills an important gap in services for our community, and helps families deal with issues and problems before they escalate or become buried.

In addition to these critical services, the ACGC founded the Trauma-Informed Care Consortium of Central Texas (TICC) to address trauma needs throughout the region. Comprised today of nearly 70 member organizations, TICC works to create a trauma-informed community to create an environment of healing and recovery for children and families. 

Foundation Project Lead