Healing Helpers All Over Town

by Michele Rosenberg

In 2012, the DC Department of Behavioral Health (DBH) received a federal grant to improve and strengthen the system of public mental health care in the District of Columbia. That work fits so well with CFSA’s efforts to become trauma informed! The long-standing CFSA-DBH partnership has deepened as we collaborate to improve services to those we’re serving jointly. Guest blogger (and one of my key community partners) Denise Dunbar from DBH shares her perspective on what is truly a win-win situation for users and providers.


Guest blogger Denise Dunbar:
DBH supports prevention and treatment of District residents with mental health and substance use disorders. We have a network of certified, community-based, private providers who increasingly use evidence-based practices.

Denise Dunbar DBH

Denise Dunbar

Focus on Children

Our work with children is especially important because half of all lifetime cases of mental disorders begin by age 14. By some estimates, as many as 14 percent to 20 percent of all children have some type of emotional or behavioral disorder.

In 2008, DBH and CFSA established the Choice Provider Network to meet the unique needs of children and youth in the foster care system. Over the years, these six providers have phased in nine specific evidence-based practices that address a range of mental and behavioral health needs for children and youth from birth to age 21.

This month, the first cohort of DBH child-serving community providers will participate in Trauma Systems Therapy (TST) training at CFSA, which will become our tenth specific evidence-based practice. DBH has been working to build a broad foundation of knowledge about trauma, and TST is a definite enhancement.


This is just one of the many ways DBH and CFSA are collaborating. Last year, we decided we will both use the Child and Adolescent Functional Assessment Scale (CAFAS)®, which gives us common data-driven information and language for confronting children’s needs and a common basis for establishing shared well being outcome measures and identifying the best services in each case. When children have to leave home to be safe, we’re working to speed access to services by having DBH behavioral health providers participate in CFSA’s initial meetings with the family and professional team.

Some DBH clinicians have been based on site at CFSA for several years—and continue to adopt new and better ways of supporting child welfare. In the past year, they screened 86 percent of children entering or re-entering foster care, providing early identification of social/emotional and mental/behavioral issues and a clearer pathway to services. This approached proved so useful that DBH has recently added clinicians to also screen the many children and youth CFSA serves at home.


Together, CFSA and DBH are working to become trauma informed and to use best practices to meet child and youth mental and behavioral health needs. Ultimately, our shared goal is to restore healthy functioning and brighten the future for children and youth who have been through so much.

Denise Dunbar, MSW, is the mental health program manager assigned to CFSA at the DC Department of Behavioral Health, Office of Programs and Policy, Child and Youth Services Division.