When you’re working with teens, you have to relate to teens. For the work of Mental Health Connection of Tarrant County and its Reaching Teens pilot, a red Converse high top sneaker represents the youth the coalition has focused on for the last three years.
Reaching Teens is a collaborative effort our community adopted in 2014. As we roll out the final report next week, I am pleased to share that the work of 10 community agencies has resulted in a more trauma-informed and strengths-based approach when working with teens. The work done by this collaboration has created new pathways to increase resilience in the youth we serve.
With tools and education credits from the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 400 mental health care professionals in Tarrant County are all on the same page. That’s system-wide collaboration.
The work began in 2013 when more than 800 teachers, probation officers, mental health providers, advocates and community leaders participated in a Mental Health Connection Trauma Symposium featuring Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, professor of pediatrics at Perelman School of Medicine at The University of Pennsylvania. The momentum began for Tarrant County mental health providers to focus on becoming more trauma-informed. That means asking “What happened to you?”, not “What is wrong with you?”
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Three years ago, Dr. Ginsburg saw our community’s dedication to mental health and asked us to be a pilot for Reaching Teens. Mental Health Connection agencies, ACH Child and Family Services, Alliance for Children & Child Protective Services, Cook Children’s Medical Center, Fort Worth ISD, Lena Pope, MHMR of Tarrant County, The Parenting Center, Santa Fe Youth Services, Tarrant County Juvenile Services, and The Women’s Center joined together to pursue this initiative.
The Reaching Teens handbook is more than 600 pages written by 52 authors. Incorporating the practices of Reaching Teens led to a culture change at Alliance for Children, providers changing their own interactions at Cook Children’s Medical Center, indoor and outdoor building enhancements to trauma-informed colors and landscaping at MHMR of Tarrant County, families more readily recognizing their strengths at Lena Pope and increased awareness of self-care at Santa Fe Youth Services. The University of North Texas Health Science Center evaluated the pilot and validated how Reaching Teens practices positively impacted providers and services to youth.
“I have tried to explain to colleagues the ‘secret sauce’ that makes Tarrant County such a special place for young people,” Dr. Ginsburg wrote in a letter in the final report. “The most important ingredient youth need to thrive are adults who care about them deeply and who hold them to high expectations … I could not be more genuine when I tell you that Mental Health Connection is a model for the nation. “
That special sauce now means warm referrals across agencies that use the same language when describing trauma, a youth’s behavior, and service needs. There is a common approach and understanding of how best to help youth in our community.
While the pilot has ended, the work continues with a focus on professional development and self-care for providers and a continued focus on consistency, communication and collaboration across the network of providers. In other words, continue to use the “special sauce” throughout our mental health network.
The red Converse shoe on the report illustrates the steps taken and imprints made during the pilot, and reminds us to continue down the path of building resilience in our teens.
Patsy Thomas is the president of Mental Health Connection, a coalition of Tarrant County agencies working together to improve access to quality mental health services.