Providing Mental Health Services to TANF Recipients: Program Design Choices and Implementation Challenges in Four States. Tennessee: Contracted Agencies Administer and Deliver Mental Health Services


Tennessee's Family Services Counseling (FSC) program is under the purview of the TANF agency. However, the TANF agency has a contract with the College of Social Work at the University of Tennessee (UT) to administer the FSC program. In January 2000, UT hired a director to design and implement the FSC program. Family services counselors began receiving referrals in February 2000. FSC program staff are hired through both UT and local contracted service providers. The FSC program director and district coordinators are university employees. Within each district, the TANF agency contracts with local not-for-profit agencies to provide family services counselors and clinical supervision. In some of the communities, the local agencies had formed collaborative relationships prior to the FSC program. These relationships were instrumental in implementing the program in these areas. For example, DHS contracted with Family and Children's Services of Greater Chattanooga (FCS) to provide family services counselors for Hamilton County because FCS has been administering programs such as life skills training, parenting classes, employee assistance programs, and outpatient mental health treatment for over 120 years.

When clients need services, they are referred to the TennCare mental health providers in addition to FSC counselors. The types of providers vary across the state. For example, urban Hamilton County has a variety of treatment providers, including a residential and an outpatient substance abuse treatment center, while rural Montgomery County has only one mental health center and several not-for-profit agencies that provide primarily group treatment to low-income families.

The advantage of this model is that it allows the welfare office to delegate responsibility for administering and providing mental health services to mental health professionals while maintaining some oversight over the program. Contracting with UT and local providers has made it possible for Tennessee to develop a statewide program model while drawing on community resources to deliver services at the local level. In addition, since the program was developed under the auspices of the TANF agency, it has been well integrated with welfare employment services from the start. The co-location of the mental health program director in the state welfare office and the co-location of district coordinators and mental health counselors in local welfare offices have also helped to integrate services.

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