The University of Texas System

Program Highlights from our first 2 years: A Blog from Executive Director, Luanne Southern

When I look back on the beginning of my career in children’s mental health and then look forward to where we are today, great strides have been made in several areas.  First, mental health is increasingly being emphasized as an essential part of overall health. This has happened in part because we have heard from so many people around the world who have bravely shared their stories. Stories that show us that recovery is possible, that mental illness is treatable and common – and that children and families in need of services are not alone.

We also have a lot more research about what works in children’s mental health services. We know that the full involvement of children and families as partners in treatment is paramount to successful outcomes. We know that early identification and assessment is key to addressing symptoms before they get more severe. We understand the role that trauma plays in impacting health and wellbeing. We recognize that we cannot provide pediatric mental health care without the involvement of essential partners like primary healthcare providers, and schools – two places that play an important role in children’s lives. We know how important it is to include youth and families with lived experience in all aspects of our work. And we are aware of the need to assure ALL children and families have equal access to services.

It is a given that to receive effective treatment, families must have access to care. As Executive Director of the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium, we are working to increase access to these life-saving and life-changing services so that every young person can achieve optimum mental health. While there is a shortage of mental health clinicians in almost every single county in Texas, the Consortium’s programs are bridging the gap by providing access through telehealth – to rural communities who find it especially challenging – and by developing the next generation of children’s mental health professionals.

In our first two years, we focused on building the infrastructure to develop and implement programs at 12 different academic health related institutions across the state. This took time as we hired staff, developed metrics and data tracking systems, trained employees, initiated contracts, conducted outreach to pediatric providers and schools. Among our successes are the nearly 10,000 primary care providers enrolled in the Child Psychiatry Access Network (CPAN) where they get free psychiatric consultation when they need resources to help their young patients with mental health issues. More than 13,000 students have been served by Texas Child Health Access Through Telemedicine (TCHATT), which works with schools and parents to offer students telehealth when they need mental health support. What is also note-worthy is that Consortium initiatives are working together – as intended – to identify mental health conditions early and provide interventions to improve the mental health of Texas youth. As an example, CPAN provides primary care clinicians with referrals to TCHATT services for further assessment. Or through TCHATT, at discharge the consulting psychiatrist may refer a student to a primary care provider who then supports their continued mental health needs through CPAN consultation.  

The Consortium represents a significant investment from the Texas Governor and the Legislature to support pediatric mental health. As a result, we’ve seen tremendous growth and are continually working to expand our reach so that at the end of the day, we are not just connecting the dots for mental health care services in Texas, we are truly making a difference in the lives of Texas children and youth.  

Luanne Southern, MSW

Executive Director of the Texas Child Mental Health Care Consortium