February 1, 2002

At-risk children find help at Children’s Hospital

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Dr. Gerald Hickson, along with Tom Catron, Ph.D., will direct the new center. (photo by Dana Johnson)

At-risk children find help at Children’s Hospital

Tennessee children in or at risk of being in Department of Children’s Services custody will now have additional resources at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital.

The Center of Excellence (COE) for Children in State Custody was recently established, thanks to a three-year $2.1 million state grant awarded to the Psychiatry and Pediatrics departments. The center will offer early and periodic screening, diagnosis and treatment services. The program will also provide consultative and clinical services for the mental and physical health care of patients under 21.

The center at Vanderbilt, the first of five proposed centers across the state, will serve 39 counties in Middle Tennessee.

Dr. Gerald B. Hickson, professor and vice chairman of Pediatrics and director of General Pediatrics, and Tom Catron, Ph.D., associate professor of Psychiatry, executive director of the VUMC Community Mental Health Center, and co-director of the Center for Psychotherapy Research & Policy at the Vanderbilt Institute for Public Policy Studies, will share director duties of the new center. Catron and Hickson worked closely with the state for nearly three years to devise the plan for the COE’s role in bringing the federally required services to children in custody.

Hickson will concentrate on medical responsibilities, while Catron will oversee a new mental health clinic. Dr. Chris Greeley, assistant professor of Pediatrics, will assist Hickson in overseeing medical consultations and case management. Michael Cull, MSN, RN, a mental health nurse practitioner, will serve as the COE coordinator and triage all incoming calls for medical and behavioral assistance.

“We are dealing with children who have complex mental and physical conditions,” said Hickson. “Vanderbilt offers an overall strength at examining these types of cases and providing oversight and coordination of the services they may need.”

Hickson said in many cases those services may be in the child’s hometown and not at Vanderbilt. If so, Vanderbilt will work with the child’s local physician in meeting those needs.

A behavioral clinic, established out of the Psychiatry’s Community Mental Health Center, has been opened in suite 1100 in the Village at Vanderbilt. The clinic will provide diagnostic, treatment and placement consultations, psychological and psychiatric evaluations, and medication management for program participants. Two psychologists, two psychiatrists, a nurse practitioner and a social worker will staff the clinic.

“We are delighted about this collaboration between Pediatrics, Psychiatry, the state and the broader provider community,” said Catron. “This program will have a positive impact on services to a needy and underserved population.”

“These children may have been the subject of abuse and neglect,” Hickson explained. “They have a host of medical and neurological problems. We have a good team with bright people who are very committed to making sure these children get the mental and health care they need.”

In addition to providing care coordination, COE faculty and staff will meet monthly with DCS workers in the region to discuss cases and to streamline case management. Faculty and staff will also train DCS personnel and community providers in best practice methods and evidence-based treatments to promote better outcomes.

“We’re all part of the same team,” Hickson said. “We want to know what we can do to improve efficiency. The children will certainly have an advocate in improving those processes.”

Cull said children in state custody often have higher rates (30 percent to 40 percent) of mental health problems then children not in custody. Problems include depression, substance abuse and behavioral problems in school.

“It’s a very hard population to treat and serve, and one of the concerns in the past has been a lack in the continuity of care that is provided,” Cull said. “We’re excited to be serving these children and getting the program up and running.”

For more information contact the COE at 322-8701 or toll-free at 1-866-COE-VCOE (263-8263).