Grant awards went to areas of Tennessee with limited in-home and community-based alternatives to out-of-home placements. Grant recipients, such as Frontier Health, hope to use the new funds to implement services and training that “will capitalize on the Building Strong Brains initiative which factors in the effects of childhood trauma or adverse childhood experiences.”
Elizabeth Reeve, director of juvenile justice programming for the Department of Mental Health Services, said recent moves toward juvenile justice reform in Tennessee are part of a trend throughout the country to provide more behavioral and mental health services for youths.
Reeve said trauma-informed care, substance abuse treatment, therapy and access to mental health care in general for at-risk children is a big part of the new reforms in the state.
“Juvenile justice reform is actually a national trend. A lot of people are looking at it and seeing that there are deficits and issues that need to be dealt with. Everybody is thinking about the best ways to attack it and help our youth,” she said. “The big thing that came out of (the recent legislation) was the $4.5 million set aside to increase these services.”
Of that $4.5 million, $880,000 will go toward Frontier Health services aiming to keep youth out of the juvenile justice system altogether, according to Tim Perry, Frontier’s division director of youth outpatient services.
Perry said these recurring state funds will help bolster Frontier’s Juvenile Justice Reform Diversion Program specific to at-risk youths in Northeast Tennessee. Frontier Health will be able to place “behavioral health liaisons” in each juvenile court in Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan and Washington counties.
If a child or teen is assessed as being at-risk for out-of-home placement — whether it is foster care, detention centers, etc. — they and their families will be able to access Frontier’s Family In-Home Resiliency Stabilization Team, which will provide family therapy services, assistance with medication management, substance abuse services, psychological testing and school-based monitoring.
Youths will also have access to Frontier’s 24/7 crisis team as needed, and substance abuse education groups will also be offered and facilitated by the liaisons.
“This was really meant to do three major things. One, it was meant to provide quicker and easier accessibility to behavioral health services to our juvenile court systems across Northeast Tennessee,” Perry said. “One of the things that we heard was we have some barriers or some obstacles with families sometimes getting the services that they need.
“The other (aim) was we need some very intensive services for a high-priority population that goes through our courts. Those kids and families that are on the brink of being in a place where the child may be displaced, whether that is to a detention facility, or whether that is in a foster facility or in state custody. Those families need intensive service that may be able to divert them from going down that path,” he continued.
“The third area was about those who are on the pathway toward the juvenile justice system but haven’t reached the level of the court system yet. Can we address those individuals to perhaps prevent them from continuing on that path and maybe not have to make it in front of a judge or in the juvenile justice system?”
But in order to make the best use of these new program initiatives which the state funding will assist, Frontier Health Senior Vice President for Children Services Kathy Benedetto told attendees — including judges from across Northeast Tennessee, as well as state Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol — that close cooperation with the juvenile courts and justice system is essential.
“We really need important partnerships with all of our juvenile court personnel to make this happen,” she said. “We want to be accessible to certain kids where they are to help parents when they need it, not two weeks down the road when they can get an appointment.”