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Center For Mental Health Services

The Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS) seeks to improve the availability and accessibility of high-quality community-based services for people with or at risk for mental illnesses and their families. While the largest portion of the Center's appropriation supports the Community Mental Health Services Block Grant Program, CMHS also supports a portfolio of discretionary grant programs, called Programs of Regional and National Significance, to apply knowledge about best community-based systems of care and services for adults with serious mental illnesses and children with serious emotional disturbances. Issues of stigma and consumer empowerment are also on the Center's program and policy agenda. The Center collects, analyzes, and disseminates national data on mental health services designed to help inform future services policy and program decision-making. SAMHSA's National Mental Health Information Center can be reached toll-free at 1-800-789-2647 or online.​


At least one in five children and adolescents has a diagnosable mental, emotional, or behavioral problem. Disorders that begin in childhood can affect future educational success; adolescent mental disorders influence the likelihood of risk-taking behaviors. Nine to 13 percent of youth, ages 9 to 17 years (3.5 to 4 million youth), experience serious emotional disturbances (SED) that interfere substantially with school, family, community activities, and other aspects of daily life. Between 2.1 to 2.8 million of these youth experience extreme limitations. Furthermore, 20 percent of students with SED are arrested at least once before leaving school; nearly half are arrested within five years of leaving school. The Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children and their Families Program was implemented in 1993 to respond to the broad range of disparate service needs for children with SED and their families.

Goals and Objectives

The goal of the Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children and their Families Program is to reduce impairment, improve short- and long-term mental health, and enhance both educational and social functioning of youth with serious emotional disturbances, thereby improving the opportunity for productive, active adulthood.

Program Activity

Since 1993, grants under this program, spanning 44 separate States, have served more than 40,000 children. Today, over 67 sites are implementing and evaluating the effect of community-specific systems of care on the lives of local children and adolescents with serious emotional disturbances and their families. The Program, which requires communities to match Federal dollars over a six-year award, expands community service capacity for a culturally competent, community-based, coordinated cross-agency approach to serving children and adolescents with serious emotional disturbances and their families. Individualized case planning, coordination, and other program elements enable communities to integrate child and family-serving agencies (e.g., health, mental health, substance abuse treatment, child welfare, education, health, and juvenile justice) into a community-based system of care. This ensures a role for families that includes engagement in the development and implementation of local mental health services and supports for their children.

Inpatient treatment days for children in the program decreased 44 percent in FY 1998 and have held steady. Regular school attendance rose from 70 percent in FY 1997 to 82 percent in FY 2000. Referrals from juvenile justice and cross-agency treatment planning increased so much that targets were revised upward.