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Collaboration, communication help teen through difficult time

September 21, 2012

Earlier this year, a young girl in East Tennessee found her father dead from an apparent drug overdose. The mother’s whereabouts were unknown, and the father’s family would not provide a place for the teenager to stay.

For contact information and more about Youth Villages specialized crisis services in Tennessee, visit

Youth Villages’ Specialized Crisis Services responder Cathy Witmer went to see the girl at their county’s justice center. When Cathy got there, she found the girl had several medical issues and a pending surgery. Cathy helped ensure the girl received proper treatment and care at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, and then responder Milly Douglas followed up with the child to get more information. During the course of nearly a week, the two responders and the crisis department monitored the girl’s situation and made sure her unique needs were met.

“That was not our usual type of crisis call,” said Milly, a former child abuse investigator. “It is a good example of how we work with partner agencies and work together to make sure decisions are made in the child’s best interests.”

Most of the time, crisis calls involve behavior problems or self-harming.

Throughout Tennessee, the Youth Villages Specialized Crisis Services staff provides assessment and evaluation of children and youth up to age 18 who are experiencing a psychiatric emergency. In February, SCS responded to more than 1,200 calls.

The responder’s assessment may include interviewing other children, family, extended family, community members, teachers, counselors and first responders – anyone who can provide salient information regarding the crisis. They also assess the child’s history and any factors that may have led to the crisis and how to avoid future issues. Also, the responders coordinate with other agencies and facilities to help ensure the child is placed in an appropriate environment, whether that is treatment at home, group therapy or counseling, or hospitalization.

The program employs more than 80 staff who work from 13 Youth Villages offices and satellite locations across the state to provide faster response times.

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