Tennessee’s future depends on fostering the health and well-being of the next generation, including those children who are involved with the child welfare system. The latest edition of the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth’s KIDS COUNT: The State of the Child in Tennessee focuses on the impact of child abuse and neglect and the importance of a supportive infrastructure to help vulnerable children develop successfully.
Some stress is inevitable in life, but a chronic stressful condition such as neglect or abuse is called “toxic stress” and can disrupt developing brain architecture, leading to lifelong difficulties in learning, memory and self-regulation. Abuse, neglect and separation from a parent present traumatic, toxic stress that can lead to a variety of social, emotional and behavioral problems.
Linda O’Neal, executive director of TCCY, said, “Tennessee is engaged in a variety of efforts to improve outcomes for vulnerable children. Many are built on collaborative efforts to bring together partners to provide the services and supports needed to help children and families, ensure safety for children, and nurture opportunities for healing, stability and permanence.”
The Department of Children’s Services is the primary agency in Tennessee with responsibility for responding to child maltreatment. The report includes information about important DCS supported efforts to improve outcomes for children:
- Joint Task Force on Children’s Justice/Child Sexual Abuse;
- In Home Tennessee, an initiative to improve services provided in homes;
- Multi-Level Response System (MRS) Community Advisory Boards that marshal supportive services for families across Tennessee;
- Centers of Excellence for services to children in state custody that support the Child and Adolescent Needs and Strengths (CANS) assessment and service planning process and the Learning Collaborative focused on providing evidence-informed cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for children who have been abused or neglected.
The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth staffs three key groups that work to improve outcomes for vulnerable children:
- The Second Look Commission brings together stakeholders in the child protection system to review cases of children who have experienced a second or subsequent incident of severe abuse and make recommendations for improving child safety.
- The Council on Children’s Mental Health, co-chaired by with commissioner of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, brings together stakeholders to work toward implementation of a system of care for children’s mental health in Tennessee – youth and family-driven, culturally competent services provided in the least restrictive environment. Prevention and early intervention services and efforts to reduce the need for state custody have been major thrusts of the Council.
- The Youth Transitions Advisory Council, a partnership with the Department of Children’s Services, includes youth leaving state custody and a broad group of those serving them to help shape policies and strengthen the infrastructure of services and supports they need to succeed as young adults who typically do not have nurturing families.
TCCY’s Ombudsman Program works to help resolve problems in the best interests of children in the custody of the Department of Children’s Services (DCS), in the relative caregiver program or involved with Child Protective Services (CPS) system.
O’Neal added, “Important private partners in the state’s child protection infrastructure include Child Advocacy Centers, CASA programs, Prevent Child Abuse and other social services, health and mental health programs across the state.”
KIDS COUNT: The State of the Child in Tennessee summarizes many of the conditions children face and highlights recommendations to assist them. The book also includes data compiled during the final year of Children’s Program Outcome Review Team (CPORT) reviews of randomly selected child custody cases. The program was eliminated in the 2012-13 state budget. Charts based on the data show, for example, more than a third of children in custody had one or more parents with a mental health diagnosis and more than half had a substance abuser as a parent.
The report, which is published annually, also lists county-by-county health, education, child welfare, demographic, economic and other data on Tennessee’s children. KIDS COUNT: The State of the Child 2012 is available on TCCY’s website at www.tn.gov/tccy/kc-soc12.pdf. Interactive information in the book and child welfare information for all states is also available at http://datacenter.kidscount.org.