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The Children's Plan

The Children’s Plan [PDF] outlines a set of principles and actions to build a coordinated System of Care that provides high quality and evidence-based services and supports to children with severe emotional disturbance and their families. 

A System of Care is an organizational philosophy and framework that involves collaboration across agencies, families, and youth to improve access and expand the array of coordinated community-based, culturally and linguistically competent services and supports for children and youth with a serious emotional disturbance and their families.  The Children’s Plan adopts a public health model of mental health that focuses not only on traditional areas of diagnosis, treatment and etiology, but also on epidemiologic surveillance of the health of the population at large, health promotion, disease prevention, and access to and evaluation of services.

Guiding Principles

  1. Family Driven and Youth Guided: A holistic approach that supports and recognizes all family members involved in a youth’s care and upbringing with the goal of providing services that are successful and meaningful to the youth. Families have a primary decision-making role in the care of their own children as well as the policies and procedures governing care for all children. Youth and families have the right to be empowered, educated, and given a decision-making role.  Youth and families are full participants in service planning, service delivery as well as the program procedures and policy development governing their care.

  2. Individualized and Needs-Based: Services and activities are customized, tailored, and guided by an individualized service plan that is comprehensive and based on the unique needs and strengths of the youth and their family. 

  3. Array of Services and Supports: A comprehensive network of services and supports are readily accessible to youth and families to address the physical, emotional, social, developmental, and educational needs of youth.  Clinically appropriate services exist along a continuum of care from early identification and early intervention through transition to adulthood.

  4. High Quality: Service delivery incorporates evidence-based, promising, and best practices in meeting the complex needs of youth and families.  The rights of youth and families are protected and effective advocacy efforts are promoted.

  5. Community-based: Community-based service options are fully explored so that services and supports take place in the most inclusive, normative, and least restrictive setting possible.  The District of Columbia System of Care will continuously develop the capacity of the community to care for its youth and families, maximizing traditional and natural community resources.

  6. Cultural Competence: Policies and service delivery will demonstrate respect for the unique and diverse roles, values, beliefs, race, ethnicity, culture and gender of the youth, family, and their community.

  7. Early Identification & Intervention: Early identification and intervention is promoted to identify and address social, emotional, physical, and educational needs, enhance the likelihood of improved outcomes, and lessen the need for more intensive and restrictive services as adolescents and young adults.

  8. Integrated Care: Child-serving agencies will systematically coordinate efforts and blend resources to enhance the availability of traditional services, natural supports, and community resources and to avoid duplication of services and gaps in care. Agencies collaborate to ensure appropriate and clear transitions between levels of care and between youth and adult systems of care.

  9. Strengths-based: Assessments comprehensively identify and services build on the capabilities, knowledge, skills, and assets of the youth and family, their community, and other team members.

  10. Outcomes-based: Goals and objectives identified in the individualized service plan are clearly understood and measurable, with supports and services helping youth to live with their families, achieve success in school, and avoid delinquency. Outcomes are used to drive decisions to further improve services for youth at the system and practice level.

  11. Least Restrictive: Services and supports are provided in the most inclusive, normative and least restrictive setting possible, to increase the likelihood of successful integration into family, home and community life.

The Children’s Plan aims to (1) implement an array of evidence-based practices shown to have good outcomes (2) expand the capacity of Wraparound and other community-based services that support children and youth and their families within the community (3) reduce the number of youth in out-of-home residential placements (4) increase the array of services available to children five years of age and younger (4) increase family involvement in all levels of the system and (5) facilitate the continued development and maintenance of formal cross-agency planning and decision-making processes to support the development of the System of Care.

The Department of Mental Health Children and Youth Services Division organized a planning process to develop the District’s first ever comprehensive Children’s Plan. Multiple government child-serving agencies participated, including the Child and Family Services Agency, the Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services, the Department of Health, the Public Schools, and the Office of the State Superintendent of Education. In addition, community mental health providers, child advocates and family groups participated, including the Children’s Law Center, the Psychiatric Institute of Washington, the Children’s National Medical Center, the DC Behavioral Health Association, the Total Family Care Coalition, and Parent Watch. (see acknowledgements for a complete list of participants). 

The Department of Mental Health will issue periodic reports on implementation [PDF] of the Children’s Plan.