The one-way windows inside Washburn Center for Children's new building might seem innocuous to visitors — especially compared with the facility's skyline view and woodsy playground. But they are favorites for therapists as they tour their new facility just west of downtown Minneapolis on Glenwood and Dupont Avenues.
The one-way windows allow caregivers and parents to observe children under treatment without influencing them. But in Washburn's current, aging storefront home on Nicollet Avenue S., the only therapy room with such a window is the copy room. So printouts and copies wait for an hour or so whenever parents and therapists need it.
As splendid as the new building looks, officials say it's the little details like this that will bring Washburn, Minnesota's only stand-alone child mental health facility, into a new era of care for young people with behavioral and mental disorders.
"It's really quite a dramatic difference," spokeswoman Lauren Wiley said of the new building, which opens for children next Tuesday. "[It] tells the story of where mental health treatment and thinking was vs. where it is now." The new facility also reflects a chronic and growing need for youth mental-health services in Minnesota, where an estimated 56,000 Minnesota young people suffer from serious mental illness.
Founded in the 1880s as an orphanage after a mill explosion left many children without parents, Washburn evolved into a foster care provider and then, in the 1950s, into a child mental health center.
Washburn is now a leading Twin Cities provider of school-based mental health services, which allows therapists to respond quickly if children have outbursts in class and helps prevent children from leaving school and missing excessive class time for therapy. Washburn also provides traditional therapy in-house, as well as specialized care services for children who struggle in day-care centers or early elementary classrooms.
The number of children receiving services has doubled, to 2,700, in the past six years, so construction of the new facility wasn't as much about preparing for future growth as it was about meeting current demands in a better way, said Steve Lepinski, Washburn's chief executive.
Demand is rising, though. More parents and teachers are recognizing children in need of help and referring them for services, said Lepinski, who believes the center will soon be serving more than 3,000 children per year.
Built with $24.5 million in donations, state bonding and a Minneapolis redevelopment grant, the new building includes other subtle upgrades such as a dedicated bus lane for children transported from Minneapolis schools. Given that some of the children have poor impulse control and are known runners, staff members are relieved that the kids won't be dropped off along a busy stretch of Nicollet Avenue, Wiley said.
Of course, children who received an early tour of the facility last month gravitated toward the spacious playground and its woods-themed climbing structure.
One hugged a picture of the playground. Another, during a tour, said, "This is my new happy place."