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As Part of Mental Health Month, Remember: Positive Mental Health is Essential for All Children

Thursday, May 01, 2014 | 08:10am

System of Care Approach Helps At-Risk Youth Around State

NASHVILLE – For 65 years, mental health organizations and advocates across the country have observed Mental Health Month during the month of May. This year, the Mental Health Month theme is “Mind Your Health,” and as part of that, National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day – which falls on Thursday, May 8, with theme of “Inspiring Resilience, Creating Hope” – seeks to raise awareness about the importance of children's mental health and remind everyone that positive mental health is essential to a child's healthy development from birth.

Children’s mental health is an important focus because:

  • Good mental health is essential to good overall health and well-being.
  • Serious emotional and mental health disorders in children are real and they are treatable.
  • Values of acceptance, dignity, and social inclusion should be promoted throughout all communities for children and families.
  • Children with mental health challenges (along with their families) deserve access to services and supports that are family-driven, youth-guided, and culturally appropriate.

It is through this last point that Tennessee has established itself as a leader in implementing change for children’s mental health. To help care for children and young adults who have been diagnosed with (or are at risk of developing) a serious emotional disturbance, Tennessee has been implementing the System of Care (SOC) approach, which helps identify meaningful relationships for children and their families, works to connect all involved people and agencies, and uses a team approach to wrap services and supports around the entire family. This collaboration helps identify and address the child’s and family’s needs to help youths lead happy and healthy lives at home, in school, and in the community throughout their lives.

In general, all SOC initiatives follow three core values:

  1. Family-Driven and Youth-Guided: This ensures that the needs of children and their families stay at the top of the priority list.
  2. Community-Based: This ensures that children remain in their local community where they are most comfortable and can stay connected to supportive people they know and trust.
  3. Culturally and Linguistically Competent: This ensures that the cultural, racial, ethnic, and linguistic differences, as well as a family’s unique culture, are taken into consideration throughout the process.

“This System of Care approach is vital in helping our young people through some of the most difficult times of their lives,” says E. Douglas Varney, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS). “By keeping them close to their support system of family, friends, and community members, and by focusing on the differences that make them unique, a System of Care can treat young people who have serious behavioral health issues and help them get on the road to recovery, so they can lead happy, healthy, and productive lives.”

There are three SOC demonstration communities currently in operation around Tennessee, and thanks to an expansion grant program, there are now four additional localized programs in initial stages of implementation.

The three SOC demonstration communities in the state that are currently funded by six-year federal grants and overseen by TDMHSAS are:

  • Early Connections Network (operated locally through a public-private partnership of the TDMHSAS, Advantage Behavioral Health, Centerstone of Tennessee, Centerstone Research Institute, Tennessee Voices for Children, Volunteer Behavioral Health, families, caregivers, and local and regional stakeholders serving Robertson, Cheatham, Sumner, Montgomery, and Dickson counties). For information, call (931) 221-3800.
  • Just Care Family Network (a partnership between TDMHSAS, Shelby County Government, and local child-serving agencies, family members and youth in Shelby County). For information, visit or call (901) 222-4500.
  • K-Town Youth Empowerment Network (serving Knox County). For information, visit or call (865) 523-0701.


Along with those sites, TDMHSAS is proud to announce that four new SOC Expansion Initiatives have been awarded a one-year, $125,000 grant from the U.S. Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to set up new SOC communities within existing structures of service delivery. Those programs will be:

  • Frontier Health: Serving children in Mountain View Elementary School who have been diagnosed with a serious emotional disturbance – building upon their school-based model in the Johnson City School System – as well as families of military personnel. Covering parts of Washington, Unicoi and Carter counties.
  • Ridgeview Psychiatric Hospital and Center: Serving children up to age 17 with behavioral health issues (or those who are at risk of developing such issues) and whose parents have a history of substance abuse or mental illness. Covering Anderson, Campbell, Morgan, Roane and Scott counties.
  • Tennessee Voices for Children: Serving youth ages 14-21 who are transitioning out of the foster care system. Covering Rutherford, Hickman, and Williamson counties.
  • Professional Care Services of West TN: Serving children up to age 5 who are at “imminent risk” for developing a serious emotional disturbance. Covering Lauderdale, Fayette and Haywood counties.


To find out about events in your area celebrating National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day, please contact one of the SOC communities or go online to the TDMHSAS Calendar of Upcoming Events at For information about National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day, see the Tennessee Association of Mental Health Organizations (TAMHO) website at, the SAMHSA website at, or the National Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health (FFCMH) website at For information about Mental Health Month, see the Mental Health America (MHA) website at

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