What Do We Know About Wisconsin's Kids?

The Annie E. Casey Foundation annually reports out on key measurements of success in their 2017 KIDS COUNT Data Book. We've compiled the Wisconsin data compared to our Midwest neighbors​, in the Midwest Trends from 2015-2017.

Overall State Rankings

​State2015 Ranking
2016 Ranking
2017 Ranking
Change from 2016
​Wisconsin​10​13​12 ▲1
​Michigan​30​31​32 ▼​1

Wisconsin Child Demographics

The following data snapshot was compiled from existing state sources.  It does not currently include tribal data.  While we have attempted to paint a broad picture of the child-serving systems, the data presented here are not exhaustive.  The OCMH welcomes feedback on other data points which could help complete this picture.

DEMOGRAPHICS: How many children/youth are in Wisconsin and who are they? 

There are 1,297,287 children/youth in Wisconsin (under age 18) with the following racial/ethnic designation (see pie charts below). 


Wisconsin Dept. of Health Services, Division of Public Health, Office of Health Informatics. Wisconsin Interactive Statistics on Health (WISH) data query system, Population Module, accessed 1/3/2017.

PREVALENCE: How many Wisconsin children/youth have mental health issues? 

National estimates indicate that as many as one in five children has a diagnosable mental health issue and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) estimates the US prevalence of childhood Serious Emotional Disturbance (SED) as one in eight children. In Wisconsin, approximately one in 10 children qualify as having a SED. This translates into 66,896 to 80,275 Wisconsin children ages nine to seventeen having a mental health issue requiring treatment. (SAMHSA URS Table 1, 2015)

  • Depression:  Approximately one in four high school students experienced symptoms of depression.  More than half of students reported experiencing poor mental health at least one day in the last month (Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2013).

  • Suicide:  Approximately one in seven students reported seriously considering suicide (Youth Risk Behavior Survey Executive Summary, 2013).  Suicide is the second leading cause of death for Wisconsin youth after accidents (WI Department of Health Services).  

ADVERSE CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES (ACEs):  Do Wisconsin children/youth experiences ACEs?

Almost half of Wisconsin’s children (46% or 601,577) have experienced at least one ACE and approximately one in nine children (11% or 143,855) has experienced three or more ACEs.  Almost all youth in corrections (98%) report ACEs.

ACCESS: Are children/youth receiving needed services?

  • Insurance Coverage:  Nearly all of Wisconsin’s children have some form of insurance (National Survey of Children’s Health 2011-12).  The public sector (Medicaid) pays for most mental health treatment for children.

  • Treatment Availability:  Wisconsin is generally on par with the rest of the nation for treatment gaps.  Approximately one third of Wisconsin children and youth with any mental health problem went without treatment (National Survey of Children’s Health, 2011-12).  The treatment gap is worse for those with serious challenges.  Roughly 60% of Wisconsin youth with a major depressive episode did not receive treatment in 2013 (SAMHSA). Most counties (46 of 72) include federally designated mental health professional shortage areas (DHS, Division of Public Health).

  • Student Support Services:  Based on the recommendations of the respective national professional associations, Wisconsin, like most other states, falls short of recommended school support staffing levels. 

SERVICE OUTCOMES: How effective are services?

We know very little about the effectiveness of Wisconsin services.  Not all public programs collect data on service outcomes and when they do, reporting is not uniform, making comparisons difficult.  In addition, there is little information on what types of therapeutic approaches are being offered.  This problem is not, however, unique to the public system.  There is also very little information on the private system’s activities and effectiveness.

INDICATORS OF UNMET NEEDS: What information do we have about unmeet needs? 

  • Hospitalizations, Suspensions and Expulsions:  Wisconsin has higher than average rates of youth psychiatric hospitalizations.  A majority of Wisconsin daycare providers have expelled infants or preschoolers from their care—most often for behavioral issues.  School-age children in Special Education are three times more likely to be suspended compared to their peers and among students in Special Education, those with an Emotional Behavioral Disability designation are at the highest risk of being suspended or expelled for ten days or more.

  • Juvenile Justice:  Wisconsin’s juvenile detention rate is relatively low compared to neighboring states and has been declining in recent years.  At the same time, the majority of youth (70%) are detained for things other than crimes against people; the greatest arrest category being “society” offenses, which include disorderly conduct, loitering, vagrancy and running away.  Unfortunately, once youth have entered the system, it’s very common for them to return.

  • Racial Disparities: One theme that emerges across systems is that not all of Wisconsin's children and youth are at equal risk of experiencing mental health challenges, nor are they all equally supported by our state systems.  Students of color are at increased risk of planning and attempting suicide and racial disparities are high in out-of-home care.  In addition, national data shows that Wisconsin's disparities for juvenile justice are the worst in the nation with black youth being nearly ten times more likely than white youth to be detained.


While the data cited above is a clear call to action, there are also reasons for hope.  Across Wisconsin, there are many emerging positive trends: 

  • Children are generally healthier than the national average
  • Most children live with a parent who is physically and emotionally healthy
  • Most young children are read to every day
  • Most children live in neighborhoods that are safe and supportive

                                              National Survey of Children's Health

Additional good news :

  • Expansion of the number of Coordinated Service Teams (CST) and Comprehensive Community Services (CCS) available to children with mental health challenges WI CST Initiatives and WI CCS Initiatives
  • Low levels of repeat maltreatment for families who come to the attention of the child welfare system WI DCF Data Dashboard
  • Reductions in the number of children suspended or expelled from school WI DPI WiseDash 
  • Wisconsin's dropout rate for students with disabilities is approximately half the rate for other states making Wisconsin the 10th lowest dropout rate of the 43 states reporting National Dropout Prevention Center