Judge Kenneth Bailey Jr.

Judge Kenneth Bailey Jr. listens to an attorney during a recent Greene County General Sessions Court session.

Greene County’s overtaxed juvenile justice system will benefit from a $4 million grant recently awarded to Frontier Health and five other agencies by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

The Juvenile Justice Reform Local Diversion Grants will work “toward the overarching goal providing evidence-based treatment options that reduce out of home placements and help to better serve youth in their community,” according to a news release from the state Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Frontier Health will receive $880,000. Some of the funding will be used to place staff members in each Juvenile Court in East Tennessee to work with juveniles and their parents, said Kathy Benedetto, Frontier Health senior vice president of Children’s Services in Tennessee.

The caseload of Greene County Juvenile Court Judge Kenneth Bailey Jr. continues to grow each year. Bailey, who is also General Sessions and Civil Sessions courts judge, submitted a letter of support for both Frontier Health and Youth Villages “in the hope that services to children and families could be expanded.”

“Specifically, we hope that the juveniles and their families can be assessed more quickly and services implemented immediately,” Bailey said. “Many juveniles and their families need mental health counseling, but sometimes do not have transportation to get to counseling.”

Other families “simply do not know what services are available to help their families stay intact,” Bailey said.

Gray-based Frontier Health has over 60 professionally staffed facilities located in 12 counties throughout Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. In Greene County, Nolachuckey Mental Health at 401 Holston Drive provides mental health services and outreach to juveniles in the community.

The grant will help Frontier Health expand those services in Greene County, Benedetto said. She said judges were consulted as recent juvenile justice reforms were enacted in Tennessee.

They spoke of a lack of juvenile justice community services and the need “to provide more local services for children,” Benedetto said.

Some juveniles convicted of offenses adults would not be jailed for currently end up in youth detention facilities, judges told Benedetto.

“It’s in everyone’s best interest for children to remain at home when they can. What we hear from the courts is to have services readily available (and) what we plan to do is place a staff member in each court to speak with juveniles and parents and try to get them into mental health services if needed,” Benedetto said.

Partners in the juvenile justice reform grant initiative include the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services, Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts, and court officers from across the state.

“This program is all about creating new options for decision-makers in the juvenile justice system and making a difference for children across our state. I’m grateful to (Gov. Bill) Haslam and the General Assembly for setting this as a priority, and I’m thankful for our community behavioral health partners in this important work,” said Commissioner Marie Williams, TDMHSAS commissioner, said in the news release.

Grant awards were targeted to areas of the state with limited in-home, community-based alternatives to out-of-home placements.

Youth Villages has offices in Johnson City and Morristown and provides residential treatment, intensive in-home treatment, foster care and adoption services and crisis support for juveniles.

Grant recipients “will employ services and training that are evidence-based and outcome-oriented,” the release said.

Work done by grantees “will capitalize on the Building Strong Brains initiative which factors in the effects of childhood trauma or Adverse Childhood Experiences.”

“We know what works, and we know that if you intervene early to counteract the effect of [Adverse Childhood Experiences], you get a better outcome than if you treat the issue later in life,” Williams said. “So for every child this funding reaches, we’re stopping the cycle of trauma that spans generations.”

Recurring funding for the program was appropriated in the fiscal year 2018-19 budget, which was passed by the General Assembly and signed by Haslam.

Benedetto said Frontier Health will begin implementing expanded services soon. The grant will allow Frontier Health to hire 16 additional staff members, who will begin working in local courts after training.

Frontier Health already has a court liaison in Greene County Juvenile Court and provides other services, including what Benedetto called “intensive in-home stabilization teams.”

The grant will enable the agency to provide additional services.

“We plan to collaborate with each court (on) mental health issues. As we develop these services, we’re going to work with each court to and see how it works best for each community,” Benedetto said. “We appreciate our judges. They have a tough job and we hope adding more resources to the court will be helpful to them.”