Academic journal article Child Welfare

From Tragedy to Triumph: A Segue to Community Building for Children and Families

Academic journal article Child Welfare

From Tragedy to Triumph: A Segue to Community Building for Children and Families

Article excerpt

In 2000, more than 60 nonprofit agencies, health care providers, government officials, and community advocates in Tarrant County, Texas, came together to work for systemic change in the mental health care system. The coalition, known as the Mental Health Connection, began working toward a "No Wrong Door" approach to mental health services, which required aggressive coordination between federal, private, and nonprofit resources. The result is a five- to six-year plan for implementation of a new systems of care model for children with severe emotional disturbances and their families. The Mental Health Connection also focuses on legislative advocacy to bring about necessary policy changes at the local, state, and federal levels. Finally, the coalition focuses on developing sustainable revenue streams that will allow the new systems to remain in place once the group accomplishes the initial mission of the Mental Health Connection.

The Tragedy

In September 1999, Larry Gene Ashbrook entered the Wedgewood Baptist Church in southwest Fort Worth, Texas, and opened fire on a group of students and advisors. He killed seven young people and critically injured seven others. Subsequently, Ashbrook committed suicide. Investigations revealed that he suffered from mental illness. Although he had been in touch with several agencies as well as the police department, he had not enrolled in any treatment program. This tragic episode underscored the urgent need to develop a connected system of mental health outreach, advocacy, assessment, and treatment. In response, Fort Worth Mayor Kenneth Barr called together local civic leaders to organize a high-level task force to address gaps in mental health services.

The Triumph

Out of these efforts, designers established the Mental Health Connection (MHC) as a collaborative planning group to develop and implement a comprehensive, long-term plan for redesigning mental health services in the community. The emphasis was to be on children's mental health services as a means of proactively addressing mental health concerns early. Along with provider and advocacy groups, monthly meetings include concerned parents, clergy, and representatives from local and state elected officials. The guiding philosophy is that of "No Wrong Door to the Right Mental Health Resources."

MHC adopted a systems of care approach, bringing together 60 nonprofit, for-profit, and public agencies to achieve several key goals that were the result of the findings that emerged after a forum and a daylong work session led by a professional facilitation team.

Program Goals

The first-and perhaps most important-goal is to be forward thinking enough to secure private and public funds to ensure that the demand in the community for the services offered will be sufficiently met. This not only includes subsidy of the services currently provided, but also a realistic estimate of the demand in the future, as well as related costs.

It is also important to have a comprehensive understanding of the current resources available, to be prepared to close any gaps in the service model, and to implement a system of accountability at all levels of the new overall model. In a larger system of services and care, accountability can become diluted unless consistent, measurable ways exist to assess whether the services being provided, as well as those providing them, are the best they can possibly be.

Internal communications and relationships within this greater system of care are essential to program success. Agencies maintain them through regular, interpersonal connections of representatives from different organizations, as well as development of a comprehensive, interactive, Web-based database system for all mental health services in the area-in this case, Tarrant County, Texas.

Finally, services must be made accessible to all individuals in the area, regardless of income and other personal limitations. …

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