Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services

The Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children and Their Families Program provides grants and cooperative agreements to states, communities, territories, Indian tribes, and tribal organizations to improve and expand their systems of care to meet the needs of an estimated 4.5–6.3 million children with serious emotional disturbances and their families. These resources provide an orientation to the CMHI Initiative and an overview for new applicants:

History and Overview of the Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children and their Families (CMHI) Initiative

In 1983, with a mandate and funding from Congress, the National Institute of Mental Health initiated the Child and Adolescent Service System Program (CASSP), which provided funds and technical assistance to all 50 states, several U.S. territories, and a number of local jurisdictions to plan and begin to develop systems of care for children with serious emotional disturbance.

CASSP recognized that children with serious disorders often are involved in multiple public systems, such as education, child welfare, juvenile justice, and mental health, and that planning more effective services for these children requires interagency collaboration.

The definition of a system of care for children with emotional disorders was first published in 1986. A system of care is:

A comprehensive spectrum of mental health and other necessary services which are organized into a coordinated network to meet the multiple and changing needs of children and their families.1

1 Stroul, B., & Friedman, R. A system of care for children and youth with severe emotional disturbances. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Child Development Center, National Technical Assistance Center for Children’s Mental Health, 1986.

In 1992 Congress passed legislation creating the Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children and Their Families Program, which has funded states and local communities to build systems of care. It is the current major national source of funding for local system of care development. At the core of this program is the goal of developing a comprehensive array of community-based services and supports guided by a system of care philosophy with an emphasis on individualized, strengths-based services planning, intensive care management, partnerships with families, and cultural and linguistic competence.

The definition of system of care was updated and published in 2010. A system of care is:

A spectrum of community-based services and supports for children and youth with or at risk for mental health or other challenges and their families, that is organized into a coordinated network, builds meaningful partnerships with families and youth, and addresses their cultural and linguistic needs, in order to help them function better at home, in school, in the community and throughout life.1

1Stroul, B., Blau, G., & Friedman, R. (2010). Updating the system of care concept and philosophy.Washington, DC: Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development, National Technical Assistance Center for Children’s Mental Health. Retrieved from: http://gucchdtacenter.georgetown.edu/resources/Call%20Docs/2010Calls/SOC_Brief2010.pdf


Featured Publications

Systems of Care:A Promising Solution for Children with Serious Emotional Disturbances and Their Families

SAMHSA Center for Mental Health Services (1998)

Provides an overview of the Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services Program for Children and Their Families and highlights case studies of typical families that have benefited from their involvement in systems of care.

Achieving the Promise: Transforming Mental Health Care in America

New Freedom Commission on Mental Health (2003)

Explores the mental health needs of many Americans and provides recommendations for a fundamental transformation of the nation's approach to mental health.

A Compilation of Lessons Learned from the 22 Grantees of the 1997 Comprehensive Community Mental Health Services for Children and Families Program (PDF)

Center for Effective Collaboration and Practice (1999)

Documents grantees’ experiences in family involvement and empowerment, cultural competency, systems of care, evaluation, and managed care.