Next Step Clinic is a clinic serving socioeconomically marginalized minorities in Milwaukee. The clinic, which opened its doors in mid-October, is located in one of Milwaukee’s once-industrialized neighborhoods.
Amy Van Hecke, associate professor of psychology and co-director of the clinic, won the Marquette University’s President’s Challenge in January 2019. The clinic was the first winner of the award.
The President’s Challenge provides a $250,000, two-year grant for one proposal that seeks to change the community by addressing one or more of the critical areas in which neighborhood inequities exist, according to Marquette’s website.
Milwaukee activists received funding to start the clinic and acquired the rights to locate the clinic at 2545 N. 29th St. within a repurposed wing of the Next Door Foundation, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The activists were inspired by the strong autism rights movement that has arisen over the past few years in Milwaukee and the United States.
Marquette University is cosponsoring the clinic along with nonprofit organization Mental Health of America Wisconsin.
“My role is important to me because I have worked with families of children with developmental delays in Milwaukee for 12 years and have seen the needs they have and the barriers they experience,” Van Hecke said. “I aim to direct the clinic to help families overcome barriers and access care for their children.”
Van Hecke said the clinic is bringing about social change for families affected by mental health.
“The clinic has three main purposes: to help families navigate the maze of seeking care for their children, to help families access the medical diagnosis of autism for their children with developmental concerns and to help families access mental health care for themselves and their children,” Van Hecke said, “especially regarding therapies for trauma they have experienced.”
In an email, University President Michael Lovell praised Van Hecke for her work at the clinic.
“I couldn’t be more pleased with the incredible work Dr. Van Hecke and her collaborators did to make the Next Step Clinic a reality, and it was truly my honor to announce the project as the first-ever winner of the President’s Challenge,” Lovell said in an email.
Lovell said the trauma epidemic in Milwaukee is near and dear to him and the work of the clinic aligns with Marquette’s Jesuit mission.
“The Next Step Clinic will seek out and serve Milwaukee families adversely impacted by racial and socioeconomic health disparities with an additional focus on families who have been affected by Adverse Childhood Experiences, trauma or chronic toxic stress and developmental delays,” Lovell said in an email.
The clinic screens children as young as two for signs of autism, according to the the Journal Sentinel.
Norah Johnson, a pediatric nurse practitioner at the Next Door Foundation and associate professor in Marquette’s College of Nursing, highlighted the tremendous need for these services in Milwaukee.
“In 2014, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that one in 59 children qualify for an autism diagnosis,” according to the Journal Sentinel.
“There is no autism clinic in the metro Milwaukee area. Children go undiagnosed, and my past qualitative research and involvement in the Urban Autism Summit and the Autism Society of South Eastern Wisconsin and past grant work established a great need for this kind of clinic,” Johnson said.