AIA Change Agents

Home | Blog | AIA Change Agents | 2013 | AIA Change Agents: Great Starts

AIA Change Agents: Great Starts


This post is part of an on-going series called AIA Change Agents where we get to know each of the direct service programs funded by the Children’s Bureau under the AIA Act. In this segment, we sat down to chat with Rebecca Kelly, Project Director of Great Starts in Knoxville, TN.

Tell us a little about Great Starts.

Child and Family Tennessee’s Great Starts Program is a gender-responsive program designed to provide safe, secure, comprehensive treatment to women and their children. The program provides a home-like structured living environment, where women can stay and heal. The average length of stay ranges from 6 to 9 months. The program is designed to enhance the client’s strengths in a structured, safe environment that encourages growth and self-discovery. With chemical dependency and mental health being the base of the program, Child and Family Tennessee believes that providing a wide-range of professional services increases the chances of a woman and her family being able to successfully achieve a higher quality of life. The staff provides an integrated approach to treatment that addresses the numerous issues that are impacting the woman’s life such as safe housing, parenting, mental health, psychiatric health, academia, job skills, relationship skills, daily living skills, leisure skills, family conflict resolution skills, social support/skills, coping skills, nutrition, illness management and recovery, physical maintenance, trauma recovery, spirituality, addiction, and recovery and resiliency skills. These services are provided by a multidisciplinary team that is comprised of an advanced nurse practitioner, who provides psychotropic medication assistance under the supervision of a licensed psychiatrist, master’s level social worker, licensed professional counselor,  family therapist, certified addiction specialist, educational staff, trauma therapist, relationship therapist and case managers. All of the treatment is conducted within the context of a milieu where healthy behaviors, choices and personal responsibility are reinforced. An on-site developmental nursery for children ages 6 weeks to 5 years is also available for women in the program. As Child and Family Tennessee’s name suggests, professionals and clients have established a strong community that acts as a therapeutic, healthy, surrogate family in this time of great need. In addition, working intensively with the women and their families is an integral part of the program. Resources and tools are explored with the clients and their families to promote success.

Tell us about your clientele.

They are daughters, sisters, aunts, mothers, and some grandmothers who have survived the shadows of addiction, untreated mental illness, and untreated trauma. They are resilient enough to fight back despite heartbreaking loss, and they are courageous enough to share their story, ask for help, and extend their hand to others in need. The women who come to Great Starts are motivated and starving to learn how to become better mothers. They are 18 and older and may be self-referred, court ordered to receive treatment, or required by the Department of Children’s Services to receive services, either because their children have been removed from their care or are at-risk of being removed from their care. Often, women in our program are able to retain or regain custody of their children as a result of their participation in the Great Starts.

If Great Starts were to have a mascot, what would it be?

A Pride of Lionesses.

Question 4 was intentionally left blank. What question were you hoping we’d ask? What would you like to tell us that wasn’t covered? What is one thing that someone could do for women who are in or have survived the shadows of addiction, mental illness, and/or trauma?

Listen and be present. The story will not make sense with just a glance or a snap assumption or judgment. Really listen and hear her story; it is in the whole story that you can learn a great deal about grace, humility, strength, and the ability to overcome. Your questions of why and/or how may be answered in a way you never imagined.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *