• San Diego Youth Services embraces a trauma-informed approach; kids do better, staff stay longer, programs more effective

    Staff of the San Diego Youth Services TAY Academy welcome all Transition Age Youth (TAY) to drop-in. Left to right: Vanessa Arteaga, Indie Landrum, Stephen Carroll, and Gillian Leal.

    Staff of the San Diego Youth Services TAY Academy welcome all Transition Age Youth (TAY) to drop-in. Left to right: Vanessa Arteaga, Indie Landrum, Stephen Carroll, and Gillian Leal.


    In 2010, 16-year-old Indie Landrum ran away from an unstable home where he lived with his mom and his grandmother. His older sister ran away when she was 16, and both of his brothers were incarcerated. Indie sought emergency housing at the San Diego Youth Services (SDYS) Storefront shelter, and lived there for several months before going into a long-term group home.

    During his time at Storefront, SDYS began a dramatic transformation: the process of becoming a trauma-informed organization. Basically, that means instead of a staff member angrily asking a youth who’s acting out, “What’s wrong with you?” and punishing the behavior, staff members ask, “What happened to you?” and work with the kid on healing and recovery.

    The results? Significant. Youth who were less likely to use the services now do, and more often. Police involvement and foster home/group home placements are down. And SDYS staff turnover has dropped. When Indie first arrived, “there were very specific rules that had to be followed to stay in shelter. If you weren’t in by 7:30 p.m., you couldn’t stay the night,” says Indie. “It’s not that they didn’t care, it just didn’t matter why you weren’t there.” At that time, SDYS shelter staff worked with youth on a system of rules and rewards: You made your bed, you got a point. It’s the way most youth shelters across the U.S. work. If a kid loses a certain number of points, the kid gets put on a seven-day restriction phase. It’s modeled after how parents discipline kids when they mess up at home — no phone, no TV, no video games. Kids are still required to go to dinner, group meetings, and shower, but they have to spend their hour and a half of free time in bed. If the kid continues to lose points while on restriction, they are asked to leave the shelter. Lose points on the first day of restriction? Out for the remaining six days and nights. “The belief was that when kids have to fend for themselves outside of shelter it makes them

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  • How CA provides children’s mental health services under Katie A. settlement, part 2: home-based services

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    By Melinda Clemmons

    This is part two of a two-part look at mental health services mandated by the settlement of Katie A. v Bonta, a class-action lawsuit brought against the State of California over its lack of community-based mental health services for youths.

    Having been removed from his parents’ home six months earlier, eight-year-old Michael didn’t need another disruption in his life.

    As described in part one of this two-part series, his recent outbursts had pushed Michael’s foster parents to the breaking point. At home and school, his anger and grief erupted in physical and verbal aggression toward his foster parents, sister, and classmates.

    His foster parents were on the verge of giving the county notice that they could no longer care for him.

    Enter the Fred Finch Youth Center, to which Michael was referred by his county caseworker in an attempt to stabilize his placement and access needed mental health services.

    Fred Finch clinician Rogelia Becerra and Michael’s Child and Family Team conducted an assessment and decided that Intensive Home-Based Services (IHBS) would help Michael learn how to function successfully at home and in school. Under the Katie A settlement, IHBS must be provided when it is determined during the assessment phase of ICC (Intensive Care Coordination) that intensive in-home and community-based support is necessary for the ICC plan to be successful.

    As the name indicates, Intensive Home-Based Services are not provided in an office setting. They take place in the environments where the child is having difficulty regulating his emotions and controlling his own behavior.

    Joslin Herberich, senior director of community mental health programs for Fred Finch’s Oakland office provides an example: An adolescent who is having trouble maintaining a job because of anxiety about getting on a bus can have a behavior specialist accompany the teen to the bus stop and coach her

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