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KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee College of Social Work has received a $4 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) to study how behavioral health services can help delinquent children in rural Appalachia.

Tennessee First Lady Andrea Conte and UT President John W. Shumaker joined the project-s lead researcher, Dr. Charles Glisson, July 31 in Nashville to announce the five-year Rural Appalachia Project (RAP).

Through the RAP study, 720 adolescents and teens between 9 and 17 years old with emotional and behavioral problems will receive treatment in eight of the poorest Appalachian counties in East Tennessee.

“Although delinquency is associated with urban areas, it-s a problem in every community. In fact, the highest rates of children referred to juvenile court in Tennessee are in some of the most rural counties in Appalachia,” Conte said prior to the announcement.

She has a special interest in child advocacy and victims rights issues.

Conte said that more than 60,000 juveniles from both urban and rural settings annually are referred for their delinquency to authorities in Tennessee. Nationwide the figure approaches two million.

“Children-s emotional and behavioral problems can extend into adulthood and result in violence, substance abuse and criminal behavior that last a lifetime,” Conte said.

“Providing access to services that are effective and appropriate can change their lives.”

Conte is founder and president of “You Have the Power . . . Know How to Use It,” a nonprofit corporation dedicated to raising awareness about crime and justice issues.

Also prior to the July 31 announcement, Shumaker underscored the significance of winning the NIMH grant, for the university and the state.

“Fierce competition among top universities for NIH research funding results in 80 percent of the proposals submitted being rejected. The University of Tennessee competed successfully against the nation-s top universities for this funding because of our potential to build on existing collaborative relationships in Tennessee,” Shumaker said.

“University of Tennessee researchers, united with state policy?makers, service providers and community leaders, can develop solutions that will be sustained in the communities long after this study is completed,” Shumaker said.

Children in rural Appalachia have several risk factors for delinquency: alcohol and drug abuse, family violence, and poverty, said Glisson, UT distinguished research professor and founding director of UT-s Children-s Mental Health Services Research Center.

He said many at-risk children come from single parent families where depression and social isolation negatively effect healthy family functioning.

“Compounding the problem of delivering help to rural youngsters is that they live in homes isolated in hills and valleys. Cooperation among professionals and service agencies is critical to meeting the challenge of isolated areas,” he said.

The study will show how timely, home?based, family?oriented behavioral health services can improve behavior and reduce costs to the state by keeping delinquent children out of trouble, out of state custody, and out of residential treatment and correctional facilities, Glisson said.

Especially active in the project will be Advocare, Tenncare, Medical University of South Carolina, Tennessee Voices for Children, Youth Villages, and the county juvenile courts.

For 15 years, UT-s CMHSRC staff has concentrated on building teams of professionals who can deal with heavy juvenile caseloads. Over the years, Glisson-s work has attracted many top grants to support the research and improvement of service delivery.

NIMH is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Federal Government-s primary agency for biomedical and behavioral research. NIH is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.