Health and Wellness

Century-old organization works to address mental health crisis in Chicago schools

The Juvenile Protective Association employs 30 staff therapists who work in Chicago schools with critical needs.

Juvenile Protective Association

An agency with a 123-year legacy in Chicago is expanding its resources to help confront the mental health crisis in Chicago schools.

The Juvenile Protective Association was founded by Jane Addams in 1901.

“Fast forward 123 years, and what we do is provide compassionate social, emotional and mental health best practices to children in need, including adults who care for them,” said Karen G. Foley, President and CEO of JPA.

Patrice Matthews works to do that, as the mental health consultant for JPA’s “Connect 2 Kids” program.

“I really have enjoyed this program so much because a lot of times we do a lot of work around the students. But in this program, it gives the opportunity to support teachers,” Matthews said.

More than 100 teachers took part in the training in 2023, with 86% reporting improved student relationships and less stress.

“Helping them to identify, like, what are the triggers in my classroom? How do I build community and just really building a positive class community? We're connecting it all together,” Matthews said.

René Taylor is a staff therapist with JPA, working with Chicago children.

“One of the things that keeps coming up with me and my colleagues is a lot of anger and rage, a lot of uncontrolled emotional expression,” Taylor said.

JPA now employs 30 staff therapists, working in Chicago schools with critical needs.

“As an intern three years ago, I was at a school on the west side. And now as an employee, I'm going to school on the Far South Side. And I appreciate being a part of an organization that is servicing kids all over the city,” Taylor said.

A renewed focus on mental health during the pandemic led to more private funding, which enabled JPA to expand from 13 schools in 2020 to 24 schools this school year.

That expansion includes relaunching a volunteer program called the “Grandparent Project,” which initially will focus on connecting middle school girls with grandmothers.

“Using the wisdom and experience of women elders to sit in between tutoring and mentoring to be a place of nurturing because our kids need to be cared for,” Foley said.

The agency’s expansion comes as there’s a sense of urgency to help children struggling with their social and emotional wellbeing.

“...A lot of fear stems from not being explained things, not being given the time to understand what's happening. And I think something like JPA, or services like that, can help bridge that gap,” Taylor said.

Contact Us