Tennessee Transforms Response to Children in Crisis

Wednesday, January 27, 2016 | 10:52am

NASHVILLE – When a child or young person is experiencing a mental health crisis, response time by a trained youth crisis specialist is of the essence. This rapid response is helping to ensure more Tennessee children and youth in crisis situations receive a face-to-face assessment from a trained professional as soon as possible.

For the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, that goal translated into a new focus and realignment of the state’s system of care for children and youth experiencing a mental health crisis.

In 2015, crisis services specialists conducted 10,422 face-to-face assessments of children and youth in crisis, the most ever in the department’s history. That compares to 8,753 in 2014, representing a 19% increase in these vital assessments. And of the more than 10,000 assessments completed in 2015, an impressive 92% (or 9,483) occurred within the first two hours of a crisis event. 

Children & Youth Crisis Assessments in Tennessee

  • 2015 – 10,442 face-to-face mental health assessments
  • 2014 – 8,753 face-to-face mental health assessments

“The quicker children and youth crisis responders can engage and assess a mental health emergency, the more likely intervention will reduce the trauma and long-term impact of a child’s experience,” said E. Douglas Varney, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. “In these situations, time is absolutely of the essence. When it comes to a young person or child suffering abuse, neglect, or mental health crisis we all have the responsibility to act fast and with the utmost compassion.”

As a result of this enhanced and more time-sensitive focus, whenever possible first responders are going directly to where a child is first identified to be in crisis. In most cases it is a healthcare worker, doctor, or nurse in an emergency room or hospital who identifies a mental health situation and knows to alert the nearest mental health professional.

Top 4 Tennessee Youth Crisis Assessment Locations

  • 53% hospitals and emergency rooms
  • 19% home or residence, 15% school, 4% jail

A key development in 2014 that helped lead to more timely youth crisis assessments in 2015 is the engagement and recruitment of more mental health crisis providers in Tennessee who are qualified to offer services to children and youth.

In 2014, children and youth crisis response was handled by only one provider for the entire state. In 2015, mental health providers from Frontier Health, Helen Ross McNabb, and Mental Health Cooperative were included, with each securing a designated service area in the state based on a competitive bidding process.

Tennessee’s Children & Youth 2015 Crisis Provider Network

  • Frontier Health (Tri-Cities, Northeast TN)
  • Helen Ross McNabb (Knoxville, Knox County Region)
  • Mental Health Co-op (Nashville, Davidson County)
  • Youth Villages (Memphis, West and Central TN)

”This re-alignment of providers and resources, going from one single provider to a total of four, has resulted in a powerful and positive impact on children in crisis,” said Commissioner Varney. “We’re seeing significantly more children, and the level of service they receive has improved, leading to less trauma and better outcomes. By all accounts, having more providers in our statewide network is benefiting our children who are most at risk.”

Of the total number of children and youth who had a face-to-face mental health assessment in 2014 and 2015, the vast majority, 69% were referred to a community mental health provider for treatment, and the remaining 31% were admitted to a psychiatric facility.

If you, or someone you care for, are experiencing a mental health emergency, call now. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Phone: 855-CRISIS-1 or 855-274-7471.

Our Mission: Provide, plan for, and promote a comprehensive array of quality prevention, early intervention, treatment, habilitation, rehabilitation and recovery support services for Tennesseans with mental illness and substance abuse issues.  Our Vision: To be one of the nation's most innovative and proactive state behavioral health authorities for Tennesseans dealing with mental health and substance abuse problems. For more information, visit www.tn.gov/behavioral-health.

Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services