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Center of Excellence for Children in State Custody

The University of Tennessee Center of Excellence (COE) for Children in State Custody is part of a statewide network of five regional Centers of Excellence dedicated to improving behavioral and physical health services to children in or at risk of state custody by providing both consultative and direct services. Referral questions may include mental health, physical health, developmental, medication, or placement issues. We serve 21 counties in west Tennessee.

The development of an individualized Care Plan for each child is a primary service of the COE. Following a thorough case review, clinical interview, medical exam, and/or more comprehensive evaluation, a Care Plan is developed by an inter-disciplinary team. The Care Plan includes specific treatment and placement recommendations. COE staff also provides training opportunities to Department of Children's Services (DCS) staff, caregivers, and mental health treatment providers.


Core Functions

  • Case Consultation
  • Evaluation
  • Care Plan Development
  • Training

When Should a Referral Be Made?

  • When the case is complex and there are diagnostic and mental health concerns
  • When there are conflicting diagnoses among providers
  • When a comprehensive review of the child's history (behavior, treatment, placement) would assist in determining the child's current needs
  • When an evaluation or examination would add information needed for placement or treatment recommendations
  • When there is concern about a developmental delay
  • When there is concern about medications

Who Can Make Referrals to the COE?

Referrals are made primarily through the Departments of Children’s Services, although referrals can be initiated through other sources.

If you are a DCS worker and would like to make a COE referral, contact your Regional psychologist. The DCS psychologist will discuss the issues, concerns, and problems to determine if a COE referral is appropriate and will provide a referral form. Once the referral form is received by the COE, a staff member will contact the referrer to clarify the specific questions that need to be answered and to obtain additional information.

On site Case Consultation

On site consultation at each of the regional DCS offices in West Tennessee is available on a monthly basis upon request.


Training for DCS case workers, foster parents, and mental health service providers on various topics related to working with children and families can be requested by contacting Melissa Hoffmann, Ph.D. Project Director, at 901.448.3420 (toll free 1.866.448.3420).



Melissa Hoffmann, PhD
Project Director/Psychologist

Liz Paiml, PhD
Clinical Director/Psychologist

Melissa James, LCSW
Best Practice Director/Social Worker

Janet Todd

Sheree Barden
Senior Administrative Assistant

Psychiatric Services

Jerry Heston, MD
Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist

Psychology Services

Kelsey Maloney, PhD
Clinical Psychologist 

Speech and Language Services

Adele Dunkin, MCD, CCC-SLP
Speech-Language Pathologist 

Developmental Pediatrics

Toni Whitaker, MD
Developmental Pediatrician 

Education Advocacy

Jenness Roth

Best Practices Collaborative

The COE Best Practices Collaborative is a project designed to advance the implementation of evidence-based treatment and practices for children who have experienced abuse and neglect across community mental health and child welfare settings in Tennessee. Leadership for the project is a collaborative effort of the statewide network of Centers of Excellence for Children in State Custody (COEs). Through this joint project, the COEs have disseminated evidence-based practices related to ACEs and childhood trauma, including children and youth with post-traumatic stress and co-morbid psychopathology; children with problematic sexual behavior; youth who engage in self-harm and other risky behavior; children with severe disruptive behaviors; and infants and young children who have, or are at risk for, disrupted attachment. 

Dissemination projects include:

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT)

Learning Collaboratives

  • 2008 West Tennessee TF-CBT Learning Collaborative
  • 2008-2009 Middle Tennessee TF-CBT Learning Collaborative
  • 2008-2009 East Tennessee TF-CBT Learning Collaborative
  • 2010-2011 statewide TF-CBT Learning Collaborative
  • 2013-2014 Memphis Community-Based TF-CBT Learning Collaborative
  • 2017 statewide TF-CBT Learning Collaborative

Regional Basic Training

The COEs provide support post-TF-CBT Learning Collaborative to the clinicians and agencies who participated by providing booster sessions, 2-day Basic TF-CBT Training, Advanced Training on specialty populations, and Supervisory Development, along with monthly consultation calls for a period of 3 to 4 months following the training.

To date, over 1300 clinicians have been trained in TF-CBT across the state.

Attachment, Self-Regulation, and Competency (ARC)

Learning Collaboratives

  • 2012-2013 Statewide ARC Learning Collaborative
  • 2014 Statewide ARC Learning Collaborative
  • 2015 Middle Tennessee ARC Learning Collaborative
  • 2018 Statewide ARC Learning Collaborative

Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT)

Learning Collaboratives

  • 2011 West Tennessee PCIT Learning Collaborative
  • 2014 East Tennessee PCIT Learning Collaborative
  • 2015 East Tennessee PCIT Learning Collaborative
  • 2016-2017 Middle TN PCIT Learning Collaborative
  • 2018 East Tennessee Learning Collaborative

Child-Parent Psychotherapy (CPP)

Learning Collaboratives

  • 2017-2019 Statewide CPP Learning Collaborative

Children with Problematic Sexual Behavior


  • 2010 Statewide 2-day clinician training
  • 2010 West Tennessee 2-day clinician training

Training for Child Welfare, Foster Parents, and other Providers

The COEs provide training about trauma, ACES, and their impact on children using curriculums development by the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN,  Training curriculums include the Child Welfare Trauma Training Toolkit, The Road to Recovery: Supporting Children with IDD who Have Experienced Trauma, and Caring for Children Who Have Experienced Trauma: A Workshop for Resource Parents.

For information about upcoming trainings, contact Melissa James, LCSW 901.448.3420.

Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

The COEs, in consultation with the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), have developed three regional TF-CBT Learning Collaboratives, training over 190 clinicians and administrators from 32 community treatment agencies across the state. The COEs are providing ongoing support to the agencies involved in the Learning Collaborative and are planning new training.

View a map containing all participating agencies statewide. 


Oct 23, 2023