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Seneca announces focus on permanency has resulted in no child returned to foster care; announces first forever families gala in Newport beach co-chaired by Mary and Patrick Dirk and Erin and Gary Lastinger to celebrate achievements
By CHRISTINE BOCK April 25, 2018

Seneca Family of Agencies, an organization dedicated to providing a continuum of services aimed at supporting children’s mental health, placement in forever families, and achieving success in school across Southern California, is celebrating its 100% success rate in placing children from foster care in forever homes over the last 35 years.  The national average of adoptions that remain permanent after finalization is 75%- which means as many as 25% of children are returned to the foster care system by a family who was unable to provide a forever home. Yet, through Seneca, children like Jimmy and Jonny, who spent two years in foster care, were able to stand up at their finalization hearing and tell the judge that they wanted to be adopted by the O Family.  Last year alone, Seneca facilitated 120 adoptions in Southern California!
In celebration of these achievements and to raise much needed money to provide the support necessary to maintain 100% permanency, Seneca is having its first ever Forever Families Gala on November 10th at the Balboa Bay Resort. Co-chaired by Mary and Patrick Dirk of the TROY Group and Erin and Gary Lastinger of the A. Gary Anderson Foundation, the event will honor the achievements of families like the O Family!
“We are truly honored to be a part of this event,” said Patrick Dirk.  “This Gala provides the opportunity to improve the course of a child’s life by providing a forever family alongside Seneca – and we are excited and honored to help.” “With Seneca’s commitment to Unconditional Care, 100% of adoptions in Orange County remain permanent and we look forward to helping continue this for families and children” said Erin Lastinger. 

Seneca believes that children and youth do not themselves fail, but are failed by systems unable to address their complex and specialized needs.  Since 1985, Seneca has dedicated itself to a model of Unconditional Care, reflecting our commitment to doing whatever it takes to help children and families thrive. Through a continuum of services aimed at supporting children’s mental health, placement in forever families, and achieving success in school, Seneca’s support is truly unconditional.   For more information, visit Seneca's website. 

'Daddy's Home' Director on Foster Parenting: 'We Thought We'd Made a Horrible, Horrible Mistake
By SEAN ANDERS February 22, 2018 TIME

Drug overdoses kill more than 64,000 people per year, and are now the leading cause of death for Americans under 50. To document the nation’s devastating opioid crisis, TIME sent photographer James Nachtwey and deputy director of photography Paul Moakley across the country to gather stories from the frontlines of the epidemic. The result, The Opioid Diaries, is a visual record of a national emergency and a call to action.

My family started with a joke. My wife Beth and I had been talking for years about whether we should have kids. For the longest time we just felt like we couldn’t afford it. Then I sold a couple of scripts and was feeling like I might have a career, but we were in our 40s and worried we had left it too long. We knew kids would make our life bigger, so one day I joked, “Why don’t we just adopt a five-year-old and it will be like we got started five years ago?”
Beth called me on it. She said we should consider adoption.

We did some research online and realized how many older kids were in foster care. We weren’t sure if we were the right people to take them on, so we started going to classes organized by Seneca Family of Agencies, a nonprofit in California that offers adoption, foster care, kinship care and mental health services for kids and families.

It was a decisive act to delay making a decision. As Seneca walked us through the needs, and we learned that so few parents wanted older kids, we decided we might get just one and see how we did.

In 2012 we got three siblings: an 18-month-old, a three-year-old and a six-year-old. We were told they’d been removed from their mother because she had a drug problem. I wasn’t worried. I thought, “Oh, I can do this. I’m going to be great at this.” Then they showed up and it was like: “We’ve made a horrible, horrible mistake.” The first few months were really rough. We would lie in bed at night and just try to figure out some way that we could get them out of our house. They were completely ruining all of our fun. When you get three at once you don’t have time to get your sea legs. It was kind of like babysitting someone else’s kids, but forever.

Then one morning I woke up early and I realized, “Oh my God, I kind of miss them right now, and I’m excited for them to come in. What the hell is happening?”

Our daughter was the toughest. Even if she hadn’t been in the foster-care system, she was three, which means she’s difficult on a good day. She would throw five to tenExorcist-level tantrums every day. And she especially didn’t want to have anything to do with me. One day she was throwing a fit about going to the hardware store and I got down on one knee in front of her and I screamed, “You are not in charge around here. I am. Not you, me. You understand?” I’m not proud of this. I didn’t know that I had that kind of temper. Kids push your buttons in ways that you just can’t expect.

But we went to the store and I was handing her things to hold just to keep her with me. As we moved down the aisle, all of a sudden she just reaches up and takes my hand, like it’s nothing. There was that feeling again: “What just happened?” It was a big moment.

Any kid that is coming into your house out of foster care has gone through some things. That’s reality. But the thing that nobody ever talks about is that there are benefits that come with these kids. Ours were so scrappy and connected to one another. We had nothing to do with it, but it made us really proud that they weren’t the kind of kids that tipped over and started screaming. They are very resilient and there has been a lot of camaraderie. They have certain qualities that I think all parents want in their children, even though they came by them in a sad way.

So much of our family process has been bumbling and clumsy and frustrating and embarrassing. But that’s O.K. And that’s the message that I want to get out to people. More than anything, I’ve realized that so many people would do this — and would love doing it — if they just knew about it or understood it better.

The first time we had to go before a judge to see if the kids would stay with us forever, I wrote him a letter saying that we loved the kids, but that if the mother could get clean and she wanted them, we would do what is best for them. The second time we went before the judge, I wrote another letter saying, We love the kids and we now believe we are what’s best for them. We officially adopted them in 2013.

Read the original article here: https://time.com/5167293/foster-kids-opioid-crisis/

Family finders helping vulnerable WA kids
By Kate Campbell July 10, 2017

VULNERABLE WA children are avoiding foster care because relatives — who in many cases they didn’t even know about — are being discovered through a global family-finding model.

The model is also giving child protection workers new ways to boost a parent’s family support network to help them keep their children. The Family Finding model’s US creator, Kevin Campbell, an international expert in childhood trauma, was in Perth this week to host a four-day “boot camp” for 170 case workers, training them in strategies similar to those used to help reunite family members torn apart by war, civil unrest or disaster.

It is Mr Campbell’s second boot camp in Perth after he last year trained a similar number of child protection workers, who have been putting into action his theory and techniques — including mapping exercises, social media, genealogy websites and motivational interviewing. At the start of the week, the group singled out 40 children in their real-life case files, who had a total of 217 adults in their support networks. After five hours of workshopping, that number tripled to 677.

As part of the workshop, case workers Simone Rist and Cherie Appleton had the chance to find a mother with a 10-year-old and five-week-old baby they were concerned about because they had been missing for two weeks. The mother had been involved with the department for the past 18 years. Using Mr Campbell’s strategies, they approached their chat with the mother differently and in the end the list they had of people in her support network grew from one to 15.

Child protection worker Nadine O’Connor said last year’s Family Finding boot camp had helped her and her colleagues track down relatives for three indigenous brothers aged four to 10 who were in care and disconnected from their culture and community. “We’ve been able to find family on country who we’re assessing as carers, so our plan is well under way that these boys are going home,” she said. “Seeing the light come back into them ... ecstatic doesn’t even begin to cover it, their feelings of being able to go home.” Ms O’Connor said it was important to keep “recasting the net” in cases as people and circumstances often changed.

In a real-life case at last year’s workshop, a family reunion website was used to discover more than 1000 family members for a teenager who had been told they had no more additional relatives. Mr Campbell said it was crucial not to rule out a family altogether because even if parents or certain relatives were struggling, there could be others able to step in and offer stable and healthy homes. “The starting point is almost always someone has said there is no one, so we go from no one to almost universally there’s always someone,” he said.

Read the original article here: https://www.perthnow.com.au/news/western-australia/family-finders-helping-vulnerable-wa-kids/news-story/3be9f6ac776b34cd26f913623d7c323d

Data is Only Useful When it’s Used
By Jesh Harbaugh March 16, 2017

This is the first post of a 3 part series

In the helping professions, few words elicit such strong and varied reactions as “data.”  In our culture of evidence-informed treatment, having strong outcome data to support your organization’s claims is essential, and there is immense value in having high-quality information to guide your decision-making.  But let’s be honest—there’s another perspective on the data revolution which is more focused on the drawbacks of “big data” than the benefits.

In fact, it’s reasonable to assume that many of our colleagues may not be particularly inclined towards data or think it’s very useful at all.  Their experience with data may primarily be one of frustration or indifference, based on their experience tracking, reporting, and being evaluated on what appear to be arbitrary metrics by an outside body with little direct experience or understanding of the client or family they might be meeting with each week.

I submit that both positions are valid and accurate.  Data on its own has no inherent value; a collection of numbers, regardless of how enlightening the information contained within it might be, means nothing unless the right person consumes that data.  Only at that point does the data become a valuable resource that can be used to improve performance and the quality of care.

This reality highlights the importance of the tools you use to analyze, present, and share your data.  If you want people to gain insights from your data, it’s not only important that the analysis (and data itself) be meaningful, but that it be easily accessible and presented in an intuitive way that a non-data-oriented person can make sense of.  We have to be practical and realistic in considering how people access and experience data—even sending an Excel spreadsheet as an email attachment (expecting the recipient to open the file and look at the contents) will prove too high of a barrier for many.

As stewards of data and information, we have a responsibility to meet people where they are at and present high-quality analyses in ways that facilitate a meaningful exploration of information.  The first important step is to know your users and understand what prevents them from engaging with data effectively.  Then, you can consider the best approach to overcoming these obstacles and determine what platform(s) best suits your needs.

No single approach is perfect, but interactive, web-based reports address many of the obstacles that were, until recently, very difficult to overcome for non-profit and helping organizations.  They are easily accessible from any connected device, offer colorful, engaging visual representations of data, and are flexible and responsive to user input—providing an ideal vehicle for sharing and facilitating engagement with data.  Once you have your data in a place where it’s most likely to be used, you’re well on your way to making effective use of it!

In the next post of this series, I’ll explore the value of interactive reports and share key considerations to take into account when designing them.

For more information on this post and the work being done at Seneca, email Jesh Harbaugh at jesh_harbaugh@senecacenter.org

Read the original article here: https://tcomconversations.org/2017/03/16/data-is-only-useful-when-its-used/

Ken Berrick, Seneca Family of Agencies, Earns James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award
by Carl Finer February 10, 2017

Yesterday Ken Berrick, founder and CEO of the Seneca Family of Agencies, received a 2017 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award in Sacramento. The award annually recognizes six leaders advancing innovative and effective solutions in addressing significant statewide issues. It comes with a $200,000 grant to further the work of Berrick's organization.  

Recognizing a lack of early intervention services in schools for vulnerable students facing academic, emotional, or behavioral challenges, Berrick and his staff at Seneca developed a model of "Unconditional Education." The goal is to respond to early signs of trauma or learning disabilities and provide the integrated supports needed to keep struggling students in class and on track.  

"We look at the whole-child," said Berrick. "We think about school climate and culture, mental health and special education as a single intervention strategy and we target the earliest and most optimal points to intervene."  

Educators receive training on identifying and responding to student needs and communicate with integrated school teams that quickly and flexibly coordinate interventions and resources. Seneca's services reached approximately 50 schools and served more than 8,000 students in California and Washington State this past year.       

Berrick praised the work of the Irvine Foundation, noting the award is "more a reflection of their understanding of some of the problems we are facing and highlighting real ideas for change."

He sees momentum building for his approach and an understanding that making progress in education or child welfare or mental health requires looking at the whole child. "This award gives broad recognition that this is the case," said Berrick.   

The grant will be used to create partnerships with private insurance providers to bring services into classrooms for students who aren't eligible for Medi-cal. Seneca staff will also receive support through staff development, a recognition ceremony, and scholarships for employees to further their education.

Carl Finer is a freelance writer focusing on education, community development, running, and child welfare.  

Read the original article here: https://chronicleofsocialchange.org/news-2/24793/24793

Seneca Family of Agencies’ CEO Ken Berrick a Recipient of the 2017 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Awards

OAKLAND, CA (February 9, 2017) – Seneca Family of Agencies’ Founder and CEO, Ken Berrick, is one of six statewide recipients of a 2017 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award presented today in Sacramento. Given for advancing innovative and effective solutions to address significant issues throughout the state, each recipient’s organization will receive $200,000 for a total of $1.2 million this year. State leaders and nearly 300 guests are joining The James Irvine Foundation today to recognize the six award winners.

“This year’s Leadership Award recipients are exceptional for their ingenuity and persistence in advancing new solutions for some of the most difficult challenges facing California,” said Don Howard, President and Chief Executive Officer of The James Irvine Foundation. “With the Leadership Awards we want to shine a light on their vital work and expand the impact of each of the award recipients to benefit even more Californians.”

Seneca’s model of “Unconditional Education” recognizes that we can change the trajectory for all youth--including those confronting significant academic, behavioral and emotional needs--when we apply integrated whole-person, whole-school interventions that ensure kids’ needs are met when and where they need it most. “Kids aren’t failing the system, the system is failing kids,” he says. Seneca’s approach includes providing schools with training, individual coaching and integrated school teams that coordinate interventions and resources to flexibly keep struggling students in class and in school, helping both students and educators alike. Seneca’s services are supporting approximately 50 schools and have served more than 8,000 students this year in California and Washington State.

The Irvine Foundation has honored more than 75 Californians with a Leadership Award since the program began in 2006. Award recipients are chosen by an independent selection committee that reviews nominations based on several criteria, including the significance, effectiveness and innovation of the leader’s work.

Watch video on YouTube.

About Seneca Family of Agencies
Seneca Family of Agencies was founded in 1985 to provide unconditional care for children, youth and families who struggle with the most exceptional needs and circumstances. Seneca, in collaboration with its county partners in education, mental health, child welfare, and juvenile probation, has developed local systems of care that serve thousands of children and their families each year. The agency's over 1,200 staff members offer a wide array of services, including: community-based wraparound, intensive family-finding and engagement, foster family-based treatment, mobile crisis response, integrated mental health and special education programs, special needs adoption, and public and charter school-based mental health services. Headquartered in Oakland, California, Seneca operates in 17 California counties and three counties in Washington State.  Visit  www.senecafoa.org for more information.

About The James Irvine Foundation
The James Irvine Foundation is a private, nonprofit grantmaking foundation dedicated to expanding opportunity for the people of California. The Foundation’s grantmaking focuses on expanding economic and political opportunity for families and young adults who are working but struggling with poverty. Since 1937 the Foundation has provided over $1.6 billion in grants to more than 3,600 nonprofit organizations throughout California. With about $2 billion in assets, the Foundation will make grants of $90 million in 2017. For more, visit: www.irvine.org.

New campaign promotes power of teachers to reduce stress of traumatized students By Jane Meredith Adams November 7, 2016


Most of the 3rd-graders in Anita Parameswaran’s class at Daniel Webster Elementary in San Francisco have had experiences so awful that their brains won’t let them easily forget. “Whether it be that they’ve been sexually molested, or they’ve seen domestic violence, or shootings, or they know somebody who’s passed away,” Parameswaran said, “I would say every single year about 75 percent, give or take, come in with a lot of trauma.”

Now a national campaign is recognizing, backed by research on brain development, the power of teachers like Parameswaran to lower the levels of stress hormones in a child’s body and strengthen the neural connections needed for learning and self-control. The campaign, called Changing Minds and launched last month, is a partnership of the U.S. Department of Justice, the nonprofit group Futures Without Violence and the Ad Council, a nonprofit agency that creates public service advertisements.

While the message of the campaign is a truism — caring teachers and school staff can have a life-changing impact on struggling students — Changing Minds cites research that suggests the impact of these relationship extends to preventing or repairing imbalances in the brain that interfere with learning.

The need for adults to take steps, small or large, to encourage these children is urgent, the campaign said. More than 60 percent of children from birth to age 17 in the United States were exposed to violence, crime and abuse in the past year, according to a paper published in 2015 in JAMA Pediatrics that analyzed the results of the 2013-14 National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence.

Exposure to violence “is not limited to one community or one group of children,” noted the co-chairs of the U.S. Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence in a 2012 report that called for a public awareness campaign. “It occurs among all ethnic and racial groups; in urban, suburban and rural areas; in gated communities and on tribal lands.” The Changing Minds campaign, which includes publicity materials as well as teacher tools, is the result of that call.

The campaign is not meant to suggest that teachers and school staff must carry the entire burden of healing traumatized children, said Joyce Dorado, director of UC San Francisco’s Healthy Environments and Response to Trauma in Schools, or HEARTS, program and a consultant for the Changing Minds campaign. Instead, Changing Minds aims to provide information to make it easier for teachers to have “calm, compassionate and empowering” interactions with students who have experienced trauma, and to encourage schools to become supportive places for everyone, including staff.

“The message to teachers is that we care about how stressful this is for you,” Dorado said. Teacher supports have “a very clear focus on addressing stress, burnout and trauma in educators,” she said. “It’s an invitation to teachers to take better care of themselves and each other.”

With repeated exposure to violence, children’s developing brains grow strong neural connections to regions associated with impulsiveness and anxiety, and weaker connections to regions that control behavior and planning, according to research cited by Changing Minds. Elevated levels of stress hormones disrupt the brain’s ability to process memories, which can lead to thoughts that are intrusive or deeply suppressed, according to a 2012 research review published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

But brains are malleable, research has found. A consistent, caring relationship with an adult is one of the most significant mediators to the deleterious effects of trauma, according to research on resilience. The campaign has identified five “everyday gestures” — listen, inspire, collaborate, comfort and celebrate — that teachers, coaches, counselors and all school staff can take to counter the damaging effects of elevated stress, known as traumatic or toxic stress. The website offers detailed tips about how to build a relationship with these students.

Encouraging students is already part of the modus operandi of many teachers, but these positive words are even more crucial for students whose emotions are on high-alert. “These are the students that are consistently being told they are doing something wrong, everywhere,” Parameswaran said. “It’s different than interacting with students who come from a loving home and know where their next meal is coming from.”

In Parameswaran’s classroom in the Potrero Hill neighborhood, many of the 8- and 9-year-old students intuitively study their teacher’s every word, nod of the head and glance for an indication that they are safe, or not, she said. She has learned to choose words that encourage and reassure her students. “You notice how a positive interaction with a student can go miles,” she said.

“This exposure to violence is not limited to one community or one group of children,” noted the co-chairs of the U.S. Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence.

Parameswaran practices what she calls the “positive reframe” to replace the comment “don’t sit that way” with “please sit criss-cross applesauce.” She practices the “5-to-1 positive ratio,” giving five positive comments to a student for every negative comment.

And she said she had the enormous advantage of having staff from the Seneca Family of Agencies, an Oakland-based mental health agency, train teachers at Daniel Webster Elementary to cope with the behaviors of students who have been exposed to violence or other forms of trauma. Part of the training is recognizing a teacher’s own reactions to student behavior and providing a place to vent those feelings and gain new perspective, she said.

“You get really frustrated — oh my gosh, ‘Why can’t you sit crisscross applesauce? Is it that difficult?’ ” she said. “Then you realize, wait a minute, I keep singling out this one student. How must that student feel?” she said.

The Changing Minds website lists the following tips for interacting with students:
Recognize that when children are disruptive, they are generally feeling out of control and may not have the ability to express themselves in other ways. Use a calm approach to help children regain a sense of safety and control.
Be patient. Processing experiences and emotions can take time, and children may need to talk about certain topics multiple times.
Support them when they’re frustrated with a task and offer the least amount of help needed for them to accomplish it. Offer praise throughout.

Read the original article here: https://edsource.org/2016/new-campaign-promotes-power-of-teachers-to-reduce-stress-of-traumatized-students/571185


Unconditional Education®: Transforming lives,transforming the field Advertorial by Seneca Family of Agencies appeared in the San Jose Mercury News, August 21, 2016

Seneca Family of Agencies’ staff receiving award at Top Workplaces 2016 event at Levi’s® Stadium.


Download the original article here: https://www.senecafoa.org//sites/default/files/news_and_press/Unconditional_Education_in_Bay_Area_Workplaces.pdf


Interview with Katrina Schwartz on trauma informed teaching.  Aired July 14, 2016 on KQED Morning Edition


Here is the full article that is mentioned in the interview:


How Trauma-Informed Teaching Builds A Sense of Safety And Care  By Katrina Schwartz June 6, 2016

Third grade teacher Anita Parameswaran is no stranger to students who have experienced trauma. She has taught kids who have experienced the effects of abuse, neglect and divorce. She had one student experience a huge setback when he learned his father was arrested and sent to jail. The student then became violent, throwing things, and hurting other students, according to Parameswaran.

Her main goal quickly became trying to keep him in class, whether or not he was able to engage fully in the activities. She would set short term goals, like focusing for 15 minutes. She tried to make his day feel very predictable, so he knew what was coming every ten minutes. These were some of the steps suggested by a program called Unconditional Education, run by Seneca Family of Agencies, a non-profit focused on the mental health and well-being of children. They work with Parameswaran and staff at Daniel Webster Elementary in San Francisco.

“It was really rough when he first learned about his father, but since then we’ve made strides,” Parameswaran said.

‘They need that strong relational attachment with their teacher and that’s how you can feel secure and safe at school.’

The program works with schools to train teachers about the effects of trauma on the brain and behavior of children. Trainers ask teachers to examine their own triggers and reactions to students, equipping them to disprove beliefs children have about safety and the trustworthiness of adults. They brainstorm strategies for particular students and support teachers as they try to implement them. They help teachers working with high-needs students practice self-care and voice their own frustration and anger about the situation.

Teachers across the country face similar issues when trying to teach students who have experienced extreme trauma or even the day-to-day stress of poverty. When a student becomes too much for a teacher to handle, it’s common practice to send that child out of the classroom to a wellness center or to the principal’s office. And once those patterns start forming, the student is much more likely to fall behind in academics, to be diagnosed with learning disabilities or emotional disorders, and down the line, to end up in prison. Schools are trying many things to disrupt that cycle, including training teachers in trauma-informed practices.

“These trainings bring you back to what’s happening; it helps you understand the psychological background of what the students are going through and what we can do in the classroom,” Parameswaran said. She says it’s easy to become negative about a student and his prospects when confronted with the same challenging behavior day after day. The Unconditional Education coach has helped Parameswaran to frame feedback positively, to work on building relationships with difficult students outside of academics, and generally to serve as a reminder that a student’s trauma isn’t his fault. She’s found specific strategies, like goal setting with a “check-in check-out” system, has helped many of her students.

Learning about how trauma works and how a teacher’s interactions with a student can reinforce his or her view of the world, has helped Parameswaran to focus on what she can control — her own reactions. She’s more aware of her own triggers and why student behavior worsens when she reacts the way they expect.


Seneca’s work in education started in the limited capacity of running “nonpublic schools,” residential programs for kids with the most severe mental health and behavior challenges. But by the time a child is referred to this type of specialized program, he or she has already had a lot of negative experiences in school. The Unconditional Education program was born out of a desire to work with public schools to create a sustainable whole-school approach to trauma that could become part of the school culture. The goal is to train teachers and administrators in a clinical understanding of trauma and help them develop individual interventions to keep students learning.

“The majority of kids walking through the door have had some kind of [trauma] experience and they’re bringing that with them,” said Jenny Ventura, who is charge of implementing and assessing the Unconditional Education program. Most schools cobble together some psychological services for kids who qualify for Medicaid, but that often means pulling a kid out of class for an hour once a week. Meanwhile, the student interacts with his or her teacher close to 30 hours each week. Seneca wanted to help teachers become the first responders to trauma in their classrooms, a task made difficult because many students have specific traumas around safety and attachment to adults..

“They need that strong relational attachment with their teacher and that’s how you can feel secure and safe at school,” said Robin Detterman, who directs all school-based Seneca partnerships. “It leaves [them] free to take risks.”

Often helping teachers to take a trauma-informed approach to students whose behavior triggers their frustration and anger means supporting teachers first. Seneca trainers try to create a safe space for teachers to talk about behavior frustrations in constructive ways. Trainers recognize that without an outlet for those emotions teachers internalize all the hard and frustrating moments, making it harder to respond next time and contributing to burnout.

In a typical training, teachers first identify strengths in their students. “I always start with student strengths because I want to be able to remember that this is a three dimensional student,” said Robyn Ganeles, who leads trauma-informed trainings for Seneca. It’s easy to forget about a student’s strengths when the focus is on behavior problems, but Ganeles said in general teachers are very able to identify those strengths when asked. Then teachers write down specific behaviors they can observe. The idea is to keep judgement out of this section and only note behaviors.

Ganeles also asks teachers to reflect on what these behaviors bring up for them. They talk through how behaviors can lead to assumptions about the student or the family. Ganeles wants teachers to be brave and really talk through these feelings, a support she says many other mental health professionals get regularly, but that is missing from teaching. “They definitely are on the front line and they don’t have the time or the space to work through these things,” she said. A really common feeling is that the student is manipulative, that she could control her behavior if she wanted.

Next, teachers examine what the child’s behavior is inviting them to do. “Understanding how a child is inviting us to respond to their behaviors gives us a window into what their internal working model might be,” Ganeles said. For example, if the child is threatening to throw a chair at his teacher, he could be inviting either a flight or fight response. He’s inviting a power struggle or abandonment. “We might hypothesize that this kid might not trust that people are going to meet his needs,” Ganeles said.

At this point it’s important to separate the function of the behavior from the invitation to respond. Teachers are often familiar with behavioral theory and see bad behavior as attention-seeking. That phrase has now become a judgmental term, when really it’s more akin to the proximity seeking that babies do. Maybe the child believes the only way to get someone to care is to yell and scream.

All these prior steps will help teachers identify the student’s “internal working model,” their beliefs about how they interact with the world. “People don’t think of those things as an integral part of a behavior plan, but it really is because it’s addressing the underlying thoughts and expectations the kids have that reinforce the behaviors we’re trying to minimize,” Ganeles said.

Once a teacher has a hypothesis about what the behavior says about how a child believes he fits into the world, she can take a disconfirming stance. If the behavior is saying adults aren’t trustworthy, an individualized intervention might be to greet the child at the door every day, providing consistency. Or if a student doesn’t think anyone cares about her unless she’s making a disturbance, a teacher might develop a small signal for the student to let her know she’s seen.

“Anyone interacting with a kid has the potential to provide a disconfirming stance,” Ganeles said. That’s why Unconditional Education trainers welcome all adults in the building to join these trauma-informed workshops. It might be an afterschool teacher or a janitor who ends up sending a message to the child that helps him see the world differently.

“The interventions need to be individualized and come from a place of empathy,” Ganeles said.


Seneca is interested to know if the focus on creating an entire school community focused on safety and care using a trauma-informed lens will make measurable impacts on student learning in English and math and on indicators like attendance and suspensions/expulsions. The organization hired SRI, a third-party evaluator, to measure impact on five pilot schools in Oakland and two in San Francisco after the first year of implementation.

While reversing the effects of trauma and low achievement take time, the SRI report found promising results. The data only takes into account the five Oakland schools because of consent rules within San Francisco Unified that resulted in small sample sizes. However, Oakland schools saw moderate positive effects on math achievement overall and positive effects in every category for Latino students. African American students saw small or moderate positive effects on mathematics, attendance and suspension rates. Special education students saw large effects in mathematics and small to moderate effects in reading, attendance and suspensions.

Anecdotally, Anita Parameswaran says things have improved between the first year of implementation and second year at Webster. The first year was mostly about getting teacher buy-in, but when they started to see the positive impact of Unconditional Education interventions and support, most were eager to participate. It also helped that the school administration prioritized the program, made it the focus of professional development and built capacity within the building to continue the work.

The goal of the program is to train teachers and administrators on trauma-informed approaches and help build supportive structures within the school in three years. After that the Unconditional Education coaches will move on to do the same with other schools. Some structures include a culture and climate committee focused on site-wide system changes. At Webster, this committee was first led by the Unconditional Education coach, but now is co-facilitated by school staff.

Staff at participating schools are also trying to evaluate themselves on how well they are implementing the tiered approach (similar to Response to Intervention). They write an annual implementation plan each summer to identify areas of focus for the upcoming year, and they do data review meetings, where educators who work with a specific student all get together to talk about successful interventions and how these are moving the student towards a sustainable transformation.

Katrina Schwartz
Katrina Schwartz is a journalist based in San Francisco. She's worked at KPCC public radio in LA and has reported on air and online for KQED since 2010. She's a staff writer for KQED's education blog MindShift.

Read the original article here: https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/06/06/how-trauma-informed-teaching-builds-a-sense-of-safety-and-care/



Interview with Seneca Family of Agency's Allison Maxon  Aired June 19, 2016

Allison Maxon and foster parent Erin Kim were interviewed on The Community Cares show on the AM830 KLAA radio station that broadcasts in the Los Angeles area. The 27 minute interview aired twice this past Sunday. The interview has several Seneca mentions, calls to action for listeners and Seneca contact info toward the end. Note that the audio quality is not perfect based on how it had to be recorded, but it's not too bad. There's a brief commercial segment at the mid point.



Transforming the child welfare system in California

By  on June 9, 2016 1:00 am

Providing for the safety and protection of children is perhaps the most critical and challenging function performed by government. What could be more important than the responsibility of protecting children at risk of abuse, neglect or even death? The provision of child welfare services is a nuanced and complex undertaking — balancing the right of parents to raise their children with the responsibility to protect children, the most vulnerable among us.

Since the inception of child welfare, California has struggled with this charge. Navigating the delicate balance of child protection and parental rights has resulted in complex policy. There have been notable tragedies, despite the state’s best efforts.

Throughout the 1980s and into the early 1990s, policies intended to keep children safe led to thousands of children being removed from their homes and placed in foster care or group homes. The results were disastrous, a system ill-prepared to meet the needs of the children entrusted to it, as families that could have been preserved were torn apart. During this time, solutions were proposed to reform the child welfare system, most of which ended up as reports never fully examined or implemented.

With the inception of wraparound services in the late 1980s, child welfare began to change. Wraparound was initially developed as a means to maintain children with the most serious emotional and behavioral problems in their homes and communities, rather than place them in residential treatment or group care. A new emphasis on supportive services to families, including the support of kin and relative caregivers, began to demonstrate that in many cases families could be preserved rather than separated. These changes set the stage for a reinvigorated effort: to re-examine the best ideas for reform in child welfare and creatively envision a new path forward.

This effort brings new urgency, as well as increased accountability and examination from the press and the public. While urgency in child welfare is not new, what has changed is the leadership of a new administration. Ideas such as mandatory accreditations of child welfare agencies, integrated mental health services and permanency as an absolute standard for every child have been put forward with new promises of excellence and efficiency. This effort is being led by Director of the California Department of Social Services Will Lightbourne.

Prior to his appointment, Lightbourne led innovations that are among the most important in the history of California’s child welfare system, including the implementation of the first wraparound programs. Wraparound, along with other initiatives, has led to the reduction of placement in out-of-home care for foster youth by providing critical support for families who want to care for their children but did not have the necessary resources to do so.

Under Lightbourne’s leadership, his agency has been transformed. Recognizing that traditional methods of reform have been ineffective, he brought together interests from across the state in a consensus-building process that has resulted in creative, solution-focused innovations with buy-in at every level, including his own staff. These innovative solutions include: significant reform of systems that access and deliver mental health to foster youth resulting from a federal class action lawsuit; the expansion of mental health services to any youth with Medi-Cal; the reduction of congregate care and the increase of permanency for youth in care to name a few.

While child welfare reform in California is still in its infancy, Lightbourne’s work has been significant. He’s done so in the background, without recognition for his creativity or leadership, demonstrating that success belongs to no single person. While some failures persist in the system, Lightbourne has persevered — quietly committed to leading California in the monumental endeavor of affecting real change in child welfare reform.

Ken Berrick is chief executive officer of Seneca Family of Agencies, which helps at-risk children and families throughout California overcome life’s toughest challenges, and co-author of the book “Unconditional Care: Relationship-Based, Behavioral Intervention with Vulnerable Children and Families.”

Read the original article here: https://www.sfexaminer.com/transforming-child-welfare-system-california/



Kinship Center, a nonprofit adoption agency, to move into old Atascadero library BY NICK WILSON April 17, 2016

A local adoptive parent, whose two children were exposed to drugs and alcohol while still in the womb, says that if it weren’t for the nonprofit Kinship Center, she’s not sure how well her kids would fit in at school, whether they’d trust adults or have self-confidence.

Heather (The Tribune is not using her real name to protect the identities of her children) said her older adopted son was taken away from his drug-addicted birth mother in a police car and subsequently moved from one relative’s home to the next. Those unsettling experiences have had a deep impact, and her family needed significant counseling and coping skills to work through them.

Heather fears her family life could be in a constant state of struggle if it weren’t for Kinship, which offers a wide range of services that guide adoptive and foster care children and their families through the scars of troubled pasts.

The nonprofit is renovating the old Atascadero library building to increase its visibility in San Luis Obispo County and give it more room for client services.

Heather’s boys, who are now 11 and 14, are adjusting well thanks to Kinship’s therapeutic, psychiatric and other support programs. They have even developed a relationship with their birth mother and biological brother from whom they were separated at a young age.

The younger son settled into his adoptive family at age 2, compared with age 5 for his brother, so he is more comfortable with and trusting of close relationships with mentors in his life. But he still suffered physiologically and socially from his tumultuous infancy, Heather said.

With guidance, the boys are more focused in school and have a loving relationship with their adoptive parents, a gay couple. And they relate to their peers.

“We are absolutely the most fortunate people to be connected with Kinship,” Heather said. “There’s no way we’d have this life without them.”

The organization was founded in 1984 with the goal of helping abused, abandoned and neglected children. It has about 15 to 18 employees locally.

To help bolster its presence and grow its operation, Kinship is moving into the old 8,000-square-foot Atascadero library building at 6850 Morro Road from its small office in Templeton. It plans to open in Atascadero in July. The nonprofit, based in Salinas, operates in 11 California counties. (The Atascadero library relocated to a larger building at 6555 Capistrano Ave. in June 2014.)

Seneca Family of Agencies, which merged with Kinship, bought the Morro Road facility for $1.55 million through a county auction process in May 2015. The company also bought adjacent lots to the Morro Road site, along the Highway 41 corridor, for $250,000 that include a parking lot and a small structure used for book storage by the library.

Among the services that Kinship offers:

▪  Clinic services for adopted and foster care children to help them overcome difficulties in their lives.

▪  A program called Family Ties that helps caregivers manage the transition of taking in a child by providing help in case management, legal guardianship and support groups. They also provide food boxes, clothes and other goods to those in need.

▪  Adoption placement and post-placement support.

▪  Psychoeducational training for parents on development, temperament and brain development.

A Kinship program coordinator, Marta Nielsen, said the center meets the full range of needs for families in foster care or adoption programming. The staff includes therapists and psychiatrists. Staffers also are trained to refer people to programs throughout the county to help serve their needs, including a North County horse program for troubled kids to work with animals, helping them to achieve emotional stability.

“Our clinic is based on a model that has been successful,” Nielsen said. “It’s an evidence-based model that helps families to succeed.”

The type of help Kinship offers includes psychotherapy for an adopted boy with lingering trauma after witnessing severe violence between his mother and stepfather; resources and referrals, support groups and legal assistance for a grandmother caring for two boys whose mother was arrested for drugs; and adoption placement for a child with special needs.

Some programs are free, and others offered by Kinship are insured by Medi-Cal.

Since Heather and her partner have adopted their boys, their sons’ birth mother has sobered up and reconnected with her children, which Heather and her partner have encouraged. The boys also have a relationship with their biological brother. Their biological father’s location isn’t currently known.

“We’ve had psychiatric services, a nutrition class that my youngest boy still remembers vividly, parenting classes for me and my partner,” Heather said. “The Kinship staff has provided us with tremendous support, helping us as a group to understand what we’re all going through.”

Read the original article here: https://www.sanluisobispo.com/news/local/article71484367.html#storylink=cpy


Guest commentary: When possible, foster parents should adopt family too by Robin Bowen, Oakland Tribune My Word© 2016 Bay Area News Group

One of my first adult life lessons was learning that change, even change for the better, involves some grieving. When circumstances change, we must allow ourselves time to mourn the loss of what was, and what will not be.

Think about how infinitely harder it is for children, without the advantage of a developed brain and years of life experience, to reconcile the mixed emotions of leaving a loving foster home for reunification with their biological family.

My partner and I fostered two girls, ages 6 and 12, through Oakland-based Seneca Family of Agencies. We recently supported their reunification with their biological mom, as the girls were removed from her care almost three years earlier. The girls never faltered from their desire to be reunified with her, and their mom worked diligently and lovingly to make it happen.

Even with all the love in the world, their single mom can't provide the same support, homework help, structure and opportunities that the girls had when they were living with us. Nonetheless, these girls need to be with their mother.

In an ideal world, the girls would have stayed in our care longer before transitioning home to their mother. We did everything we could to prepare the girls for their move home, including respite visits with mom, supplementing food and gas money, providing ongoing after-school care and homework help, and, mostly, staying interested and involved in their lives.

Family is key in this transition. Our family expanded, and now includes the girls, their mom, and their extended family. We back up her decisions and she backs up ours. Not all foster kids want or should have contact with adults from their biological family, but all kids want and need to know their origin story. As foster parents, we don't just get a child, we must embrace their history.

The child welfare system is complicated and difficult to navigate. The overarching principle should remain firmly focused on the best interests of the child. This cannot happen unless the people involved communicate with each other and resolve to work as a team.

When people learn that I am a foster parent, their reaction is usually to express admiration for the good deed that I am doing and my selflessness. I don't feel selfless, rather, I am consistently enriched and fulfilled by seeing kids with endless potential grow and mature.

I receive the company of amazing kids who entertain and challenge me, and my joy comes from seeing our girls get what is best for them. I must accept that their birth mother makes different parenting choices than I would make, and that even though life is harder, their rightful place is with their mom. I choose to take pleasure in knowing that I am helping them to succeed.

While there are challenges that accompany foster parenting, a philosophy of adopting the family, not just the kids, can be rewarding and the most effective way to keep the children's best interests in focus for all involved.

Robin Bowen is a legal professional and proud foster mom who lives in Oakland. Visit www.senecafoa.org to learn about foster parenting.

Child Protection Needs a ‘Race to the Moon’ Mentality by Kevin A. Campbell March 23, 2016

In the practice of child welfare, we are called upon to model a set of core values.Woven throughout Family Finding and my partnership with the Seneca Family of Agencies is an evolving philosophy of “unconditional care” that translates into, “Our plans may fail, but the family and child will not.” Indeed, we will not give up in our efforts to support children, families, communities and Tribes in their efforts to build safe, connected, hopeful and purposeful futures. 

Unfortunately, our federal and state financing of child protection and other social welfare programs has for decades done just that – given up on children and families – and beyond that abandoned whole neighborhoods, communities, racial groups and Indian Nations. Abandoned in sense that they as individuals or groups are not seen to have any meaningful or valuable capacity to create solutions to the challenges that most affect their lives and instead financial resources are directed to put social service agencies, charities and courts in their place to decide what is best, who is worth saving, keeping together or even protecting.

As such our financing of child protection mirrors historic and prevailing policy and public sentiment of rescuing children from easily vilified individuals and marginalized groups, and then moving them to a “better place” like foster care, residential care, adoption and, more recently, so-called extended foster care and independent living.

Our federal “uncapped entitlement,” Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, has for decades fueled programs and services that we now know have little or reverse evidence to show that they make any real impact in improving outcomes and generational involvement with social welfare and justice programs.

Unfortunately, the current debate about the proposed changes to federal financing in the proposed Family First Act would not, in my opinion, fundamentally address this problem. The bill, as it is being interpreted in the industry, has strong undertones of an attempt to sell wholesale change, as long as it doesn’t cut funds for our favorite legacy programs. In this way it does not address the paternalistic foundations of the original entitlement program and continues to leave out the voices and participation of those who matter most: parents, children, young people, families and non-custodial fathers.

So it seems quite literally to have become a massive game of “Who Moved My Cheese?” With the Family First Act, the winners would be a short list of so-called evidence-based programs that have never been taken to scale. The losers would be the usual suspects: children, youth, parents, families, tribes and caseworkers.

This is lamentable because reform is needed. As I watch the unfolding patterns in the states of foster care placements rising, and then foster care shortages ensuing, it seems clear that the most likely outcome of any “reform” effort will be a significantly larger out-of-home care system. We could easily be somewhere close to numbers we saw in the mid- to late 1990s within five years without urgent intervention by Congress and the states.

So what to do? First, a truly courageous and overdue debate needs to happen about the intersection of federal- and state-level funding of health care, education, justice, mental health, economic opportunities and child protection. That debate should be a forward-facing one; we can’t look to the past, or even to current programs or pet projects for a single or simple answer. 

We need to have a debate that looks at the current state of evidence on what it takes to raise healthy, safe and successful children, adolescents and young adults. That evidence supports good common sense. It takes a family; a permanent, respected and supported family. It takes high quality education experiences. It takes a safe neighborhood and engaged communities. Finally, it takes hope; hope that if you are a part of these things you could truly and fairly participate in a life worth living. In too many places in America, including our current foster care system, that kind of opportunity and hope is in short supply.

In addition to what children need, the adults who love them have needs, too. Any practice in child welfare that has any possibility of real impact must focus on the well-being of the family and the caseworker. 

Our conventional practice of “casework as usual,” a type of practice driven by caseworkers trying to survive high caseloads and rampant staff and foster parent turnover, force a focus on placement or no placement. “Safety” considerations beyond this are a luxury on most days. This form of “casework as usual” is brutal to children, parents, extended family, tribes and non-custodial fathers. 

While we have focused more on finding and engaging fathers and relatives since 2008, we have done nothing meaningful to change the conditions of “casework as usual.” When located and engaged, fathers and relatives get to the agency where they are treated with suspicion and disrespect, and only one question seems important: are you appropriate? That is a question the casework agency will answer, not you. Appropriate for what? One thing: placement of the child at the beginning. If not, you have no other role and you and any other offer of help will effectively disappear from the child’s life, creating a social and cultural quarantine for the child and extended family.

So the title of the proposed bill, Family First, is right, however without an authentic commitment to the title it may result in few real changes. 

What is wrong with the current conceptualization of the bill can be stated in three parts:

  1. The scope and vision of the proposed bill is too narrow; consider incorporating the findings of the Commission to End Child Abuse and Neglect Fatalities Report to “get resources to families before children and adolescents are hurt.”
  2. The proposed timeframes for moving to fund only “evidence-based” models is unrealistic and does not specifically provide support for continued innovation, testing and implementation of models at scale.
  3. The proposed bill does not place the issue in the right context; child welfare exists in a symbiotic relationship to socio-economic status and the pervasive racial inequality that continues to plague the United States. 

Where you find clusters of marginalized people and groups you find clustering of severe child neglect, abuse and preventable fatalities. A child protection agency is no remedy for this and cannot continue to be held solely accountable every time policy makers and their constituents are forced to confront the consequences of these larger policy failures through yet another tragedy befalling a vulnerable child and family. 

I have lived my entire life in the shadow of the War on Poverty and Great Society programs of President Johnson. During that period the root causes of child abuse and neglect were the subject of much discussion. Contributing factors of these social ills were identified as pervasive economic inequality, historic and institutional racism and, finally, segregation. 

Campaigns were begun to address these problems then, yet they continue to plague us today. Consider this statistic: in 2015 the poorest white families in the U.S. had twice the wealth of the poorest black, Hispanic and Native American Families.  

The debate about financing reform and, more importantly, equity, must become the “race to the moon” of our time.

We must fund it, staff it and start first with a launching platform of unconditional care, hope, equality, respect, participation and a realization that it serves us all to have a country built on safe, thriving families, neighborhoods, communities and tribes. 

But we can’t fund a NASA-like endeavor the way we have historically funded child welfare. For if we do, we won’t make it out of the current atmosphere, and nowhere near the promise of the stars that comes with childhood.

Kevin A. Campbell pictureKevin A. Campbell is a internationally known youth permanency expert and the model author of Family Finding, a set of strategies used throughout the United States, Canada and Australia to create lifelong supports for children in foster care. Kevin is the co-founder of the National Institute for Permanent Family Connectedness hosted at the Seneca Family of Agencies in California.

Read the original article here: https://chronicleofsocialchange.org/analysis/kevin-campbell-guest-piece/16800



The Need to Align Values of Schools, Family Services Providers by Ken Berrick and Hae-Sin Thomas December 28, 2015

Opportunities abound for educators and nonprofit partners in California to align values between schools and community partners.

With the adoption of the local control funding structure, California began to require each school district to create a Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP) responsible for ensuring the academic growth of students with disabilities and addresses the unique needs of students who live in poverty, students who are English language learners and students who are in foster care.

In addition, the California Special Education Task Force released its report, “One System: Reforming Education to Serve All Students,” in March 2015, making recommendations aligned with the LCAP legislation. Most significantly, the report highlights the need for a unified, coherent education reform movement recognizing that all students must be considered general education students first, and that students who struggle with academic and/or behavioral challenges deserve to receive specialized support as soon as they need it.

To accomplish this, the task force recommends that each school implement what it calls a Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) where all students have ready-access to the academic, behavioral and social-emotional supports they need to succeed.

Our organizations – Change Public Schools and Seneca Family of Agencies, both located in Oakland – are collaborating to implement Seneca’s MTSS model called Unconditional Education within charter schools, enthusiastically embracing these statewide reform efforts.

These current and proposed education reforms reflect the necessity to more effectively align funding, services and expertise with the needs of school communities and individual students.

This however, does not go far enough. There is also a significant need for closer alignment of values between schools and school-based service providers. Many urban school districts and public charter schools struggle to meet the academic and social-emotional needs of their students because the resources available to them are insufficient and/or inefficiently allocated among city, county, state and federal agencies.

This makes it critical for schools and service providers to work as partners to efficiently share and target their respective funding, expertise and additional resources in order to improve student outcomes.

What does it mean for a service provider to be a partner, rather than just a vendor of a school or school district? Vendors operate according to a previously agreed upon scope of work, while partners go “all in” to collectively solve problems that are not covered by the typical scope of work. Vendors rarely go above and beyond, while partners strive to do whatever it takes.

In concrete terms, a true partnership between a school and a service provider means:

  • Service provider staff are integral and valued members of the larger school team.
  • The service provider is equally committed to the well being of every student on campus, as well as the success of the larger school community.
  • The school principal can call the service provider at any time. For example, if a traumatic situation arises on or off campus involving a student, together they can develop an immediate plan for intervention.

This work is equally challenging and complex, and it is necessary for school administrators and educators to trust they have a committed partner in finding solutions and managing crises.

Ken Berrick is Chief Executive Officer of Seneca Family of Agencies. Hae-Sin Thomas is the Chief Executive Officer for Education for Change Public Schools.

Read the original article here: https://chronicleofsocialchange.org/featured/the-need-to-align-values-of-schools-family-services-providers/14912



Dione Mason: All Work and Some Play
Interview by PATRICIA R. OLSEN     OCT. 17, 2015

Dione Mason and one of his charges at Knowledge Universe.
Credit Peter Earl McCollough for The New York Times

Dione Mason, 28, is a program specialist for Knowledge Universe, an education and child care provider.

Q. What is your role as a program specialist?
A. Knowledge Universe is an international education and child care provider with four centers on the Stanford University campus. I work at the one for children of Stanford University Medical Center employees. We have about 90 children ranging from 6 weeks to 4 years old. I enroll students and hire teachers, and I’m the liaison between parents and teachers.

Do you interact with the children much?
I sometimes play with the older children — tag outside at recess, and duck, duck, goose inside.

What is your educational background?
I have a degree in early childhood development from Walden University in Minneapolis. My first job after graduating was teaching physical education at a charter school in Oakland, Calif. Then I got a job at a child care company in San Francisco. Knowledge Universe recruited me during the last school year.

Do you prefer teaching or an administrative role?
An administrative role. I’d like to start my own education and child care company one day for inner-city youth.

Why were you drawn to working with children?
When I was 3, my mother, a single parent, couldn’t care for my four siblings and me. We went back and forth between family members. When I was 11, the Seneca Family of Agencies placed me with a foster family, which was a positive experience. I hadn’t attended school much until fifth grade, so I had to catch up, and I got a basketball scholarship for college. Now I’m a foster parent with Seneca myself. I’ve cared for a 16-year-old boy and a 12-year-old boy, and I’ve stayed in touch with both of them. I knew I wanted to give back and be a male role model like the ones I’ve had.

And you volunteer with children also?
After my day job, I work for Elevated Legacy, a nonprofit organization, as a basketball coach for foster youth and kids from the Oakland community where I grew up. Aside from basketball, I try to teach them about life and to make smart choices.

Vocations asks people about their jobs. Interview conducted and condensed by Patricia R. Olsen.
Read the original article here: https://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/18/jobs/dione-mason-all-work-and-some-play.html



Horses help kids' healing process
by Kathleen Luppi October 11, 2015 for the Los Angeles Times

In an Anaheim Hills field, a large Norwegian Fjord horse galloped around, tail held high.

The athletic horse, which looked like Sitron from the Disney animated film "Frozen," is among a new army of animals that are helping therapists provide rehabilitative services for children with social, psychological and behavioral challenges.

"It's like a giant big dog," said Allison Davis Maxon, a licensed marriage and family therapist with the Seneca Canyon Acres Ranch, which uses horses in its Guided Animal Intervention Therapy Program, or GAIT. "A horse loves unconditionally."

The Anaheim Hills treatment center is celebrating its 35th anniversary. It recently underwent a $200,000 renovation project.

Through the center's equine riding program, it has served more than 1,000 children and families in Orange, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties each year, Maxon said.

At the 4.6-acre ranch, children are placed on horseback in an effort to build a relationship with the animal.

Horses provide immediate feedback, reacting to the rider's actions and body language.

"How you act, the horse will act," Maxon said. "Children are drawn to a horse because they're big and large, and horses are attuned to read out cues. We have kids communicating their feelings with horses over time."

The horses help the kids get in touch with fears, anxiety and mistrust, she said, adding that they also learn self-control and teamwork.

Before riding, the children must first care for the animal — grooming it and equipping it with a saddle, stirrups, reins and other riding accessories. After advancing to riding, they learn games on horseback and continue to observe horse dynamics.

Maxon said children's self-esteem increases and they develop a stronger self-confidence in their abilities.

Children also benefit physically from riding; the movements build core strength.

Each child has a therapist who is there during the hour's session with a horse.

"This is very integrative," Maxon said. "The horse is the motivator but is still therapeutic. This program presents challenges to a child who has to be the problem-solver. It's empowering."

Horses have been viewed as therapeutic aids since ancient Greece. And 17th century literature described therapeutic riding as being prescribed for low morale and neurological disorders.

Seneca Canyon Acres Ranch is 35 years old and its GAIT program is over 15 years old. Before GAIT, the ranch was a residential treatment center for children in the foster care system.

The agency said it is seeking volunteers. Currently, more than 200 children receive therapeutic services at Seneca Canyon Acres Ranch each week, said Maxon.

"It's always rewarding to hear children start vocalizing again," she said. "There's something about a horse that help build someone up."

Read the original article here: https://www.latimes.com/socal/weekend/news/tn-wknd-et-1011-seneca-canyon-acres-ranch-20151011-story.html

With Mental Health, Calif. Child Welfare Systems Must Learn from the Best
by Ken Berrick August 31, 2015

The California Council of Community Mental Health Agencies, in collaboration with other statewide advocacy groups, recently released a report detailing the lack of service options for children and youth experiencing mental health crises across California. In nearly all 58 counties, youth have very limited access to any service options beyond hospital emergency rooms and distant or difficult to access psychiatric inpatient facilities.

The January 2015 report, “Kids in Crisis,” highlights the challenges that emergency rooms face in addressing the immediate and longer-term treatment needs of children and adolescents in psychiatric crisis. Because emergency rooms often lack staff with specialized psychiatric training, less than half of the young people seeking treatment there receive any type of mental health evaluation. Few are ever referred for outpatient treatment or follow-up.

Thus, many children in serious psychiatric distress not only go untreated but experience additional trauma that exacerbates their condition. To address this significant service gap, Assemblymember Das Williams has introduced Assembly Bill 741, designed to ensure that appropriate services for children and youth experiencing mental health crises are both available and accessible, and designed to meet their specific needs.

Examples of more effective and accessible services include the crisis services continuum available in Alameda County, where youth have access to mobile crisis teams, 23-hour crisis stabilization, and hospitalization/short-term crisis residential treatment.

As policy makers and advocates work to improve California’s system of crisis services for children and their families, it is worth considering lessons learned from implementing the settlement agreement for Katie A v Bonta, a landmark case in the state involving mental health guarantees for children who are in, or at risk of entering, foster care.

The implementation lessons applicable to efforts like AB 741 include the following:

  1. Broad systems change efforts could involve 58 individual counties and potentially hundreds of service providers and/or organizations. California should develop clear program implementation guidelines, supported by readily available training and technical assistance resources.
  2. California counties often lack adequate funding to develop new services, while non-profit organizations operate with little or no surplus revenue. It is critical that the state provide adequate funding to expand treatment options for children and youth in crisis.
  3. Within the context of the elements described above – thorough implementation guidelines, technical assistance, training, and adequate funding – the state should develop realistic and effective systems for holding counties and service providers accountable to stated outcomes.

The impact of the suffering and long-term cost of delayed or inadequate treatment for children in crisis cannot be overstated. Indeed, thousands of children and youth are brought to emergency rooms for mental health intervention across the country each day, putting them at risk of further traumatization. Thus, it is our responsibility to act expeditiously and thoughtfully to address this unmet need of our communities and of our children and their families.

Ken Berrick is Chief Executive Officer of Seneca Family of Agencies in Oakland, California. He is co-author of the book “Unconditional Care: Relationship-Based, Behavioral Intervention with Vulnerable Children and Families.”

Read the original article here: https://chronicleofsocialchange.org/analysis/calif-child-welfare-systems-must-learn-best/12698


Berrick: California must bolster education outcomes for foster children By Ken Berrick
June 07, 2015

Bay Area residents and all Californians should take the opportunity to focus our attention on the needs of some of the most vulnerable among us — our foster youth.

Our responsibility to the over 60,000 youth in the California foster care system and 6,000 foster youth in the Bay Area, cannot be overstated. Not only do they face the day-to-day challenges of children living in more traditional circumstances, foster youth also confront a myriad of stressors that impact their ability to thrive in the very setting we rely on to support their safety, stability and development—our schools.

The nature of California’s educational funding has changed dramatically in recent years, moving control away from the state and closer to local school districts where decisions about program design and implementation can be tailored to the community’s individualized needs.

This shift marked a significant change in the autonomy and control of each school district, but was asserted with one important caveat: districts would be held accountable to the public for the educational outcomes in their schools. One of the most significant and positive implications of this change was the impact on foster youth, a group previously overlooked in California’s education system.

The regulations now require districts to be accountable for the educational outcomes of the state’s most vulnerable children. This should have been unremarkable; indeed, one might assume that school districts track, monitor and report the educational outcomes for all youth in their schools, including foster youth. Unfortunately, many districts could neither identify the foster youth in their schools, nor report their educational outcomes.

The decision to track the outcomes of foster youth came about after a landmark study by the Stuart Foundation, which found that foster youth were the single most disadvantaged study-group. Graduation rates were abysmal, hovering at 45 percent, and the academic achievement of foster youth was astonishingly poor. It became clear that California had failed to provide for one of the primary parental responsibilities of its foster youth — their education.

While it is easy to place blame with school districts, foster homes, or county social service departments, the simple fact remains, this is a whole-system failure. Recognizing the importance of remediating the educational needs of the children we are responsible to parent, the revised regulations communicated a powerful statement by simply requiring school districts to track their outcomes.

Tracking and monitoring outcomes itself, however, is not enough. Foster youth are affected not only by the educational system, but by the profound impact of the abuse and/or neglect that initially resulted in their entry into the foster care system.

The state needs a solution that does not segregate foster youth from the broader community, but instead facilitates opportunities for schools and communities to embrace them. Assembly Bill 741 and Assembly Bill 1025 are two important examples that help generate a solution.

Independently, each supports critical and unmet needs of all youth, including foster children. Together, they begin to fill significant gaps in our educational and social systems by creating comprehensive stabilization services for youth experiencing acute mental health crises and implementing integrated and inclusive, whole-school reform efforts.

Both bills have found wide-sweeping support across disciplines, departments, funders and consumer groups, not only because there is consensus of the needs of our foster youth, but more importantly, because these needs are not new and there is agreement that significant reform and attention to them is needed now.

With a system finally prepared to act, it is our responsibility to take the courageous step toward delivering on the promise to support our schools with policies and processes that ensure that foster youth can succeed.

Ken Berrick is Chief Executive Officer of Seneca Family of Agencies (www.senecafoa.org) based in Oakland. He is co-author of the book, Unconditional Care: Relationship-Based, Behavioral Intervention with Vulnerable Children and Families.

Read the original article here: ttp://m.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/berrick-california-must-bolster-education-outcomes-for-foster-children/Content?oid=2932552

Unsung hero: Grace and Rolando Bautista
By Almendra Carpizo, Record Staff Writer
May 30, 2015

LATHROP — As a mother of four, Grace Bautista has a difficult time seeing a child without a family or a home.
Her kids, she said, are fortunate. And now, she and her husband, Rolando, share some of that fortune with youth in the foster care system.
At the urging of her 15-year-old daughter, Grace and her husband of 21 years became licensed to be foster parents in January and began fostering in March.

Bautista said her daughter, Joy, met and talked with classmates who are in foster care and it compelled her to ask her parents to consider fostering.

Hearing the kids’ stories of their unstable family situations made her compare her living situation to theirs and she wanted to help, Grace said.

In 2013, there were 1,433 children in San Joaquin County that were in foster care, according to KidsData.Org, a program of the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health. There were more than 58,000 foster children in California the same year.
Since March, the Bautista family has fostered two girls, ages 10 and 13.

Grace said she never had contemplated offering her home to kids in need, but she got accustomed to having children running around her home when she was raising her three eldest children.

Her kids would bring friends over, so there always were kids around, the stay-at-home mom said.

The experience of fostering, however, is different, and can be challenging and overwhelming.

The girls lived at her home at separate times. One stayed three days, while the other lived at the home for three weeks.

Both girls had some issues, Grace said. One of the girls did great, while the second girl struggled.

Yet, the difficulties didn’t dissuade the family from fostering again, she said, but it is something potential foster parents should keep in mind.

The experience with the two girls made Grace realize there are many kids who need help, she said. In her case, her foster children just needed to know that they could talk about their problems.

Although every child is different, she said that with patience, structure and guidance, kids can thrive.

Grace and Rolando, who works two jobs at a local hospital to support the family, have received a lot of training and help from Oakland-based Seneca Family of Agencies, which was founded 30 years ago to help at-risk children and families with matters such as foster care, foster parenting and adoption.

She said she would not have been able to be a foster parent without the support and classes offered by Seneca.
“They guided me and helped me make a hard decision,” she said.

Grace said fostering children is a rewarding experience.

“It accomplishes something for another child — it’s an overwhelming feeling,” said Grace, who still keeps in touch with the 13-year-old girl she fostered.

The girl wrote her a thank-you card appreciating being treated like a daughter, Grace said.

“It’s very nice that it worked out for both of us and we connected,” she said. “I’m here for her whenever she needs it.”
Stockton area residents who want to learn about foster parenting through Seneca Family of Agencies can call (877) 380-5300.

Read the original article here: https://www.recordnet.com/article/20150530/NEWS/150539986/0/SEARCH

Letter to the editor: Foster parenting as a way to enrich lives

Foster parents make a huge contributionMay is National Foster Care Month and Oakland-based Seneca Family of Agencies encourages readers to learn about the joys of foster parenting.

There are 6,000 children in foster care in the Bay Area and 400,000 nationally. While the ultimate goal is returning kids to their own families, it's not always possible -- either ever or sometimes just not right away. That's where foster parents step in and make a huge difference in the lives and futures of children, and in so doing receive rewards that last a lifetime.

My organization, Seneca Family of Agencies, was founded 30 years ago, and coordinating foster care in the Bay Area and many areas of Ca6lifornia is among the important services we provide for children and the community.

I encourage readers to consider foster parenting as a way to enrich their lives, make a major difference in the lives of children and help build better communities. Visit www.senecafoa.com and click the foster tab to learn more.

Ken Berrick
CEO Seneca Family of Agencies Oakland

Letters to the editor, Oakland Tribune © 2015 Bay Area News Group

Read the original article here: https://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_28146254/may-20-letters-editor

Dedicated to a life of foster care 
By Laura Dudnick, The San Francisco Examiner 

Dione Mason and his new wife expect three things of the foster children staying in their Oakland home: doing homework, personal hygiene and keeping a clean bedroom come first before other activities.

But that’s it, Mason emphasized. They keep the rules simple to ensure there is no “militant structure” and the children have fun — “what home is supposed to feel like,” he said.

Mason, 27, did not pick up such parenting techniques from his own mother and father (he didn’t even meet his dad until seven years ago). Mason’s mother, conversely, had left her five children, including Mason, in a shopping cart in front of their grandmother’s house when Mason was 5. She was supposed to be right back, but never returned.

It was another home altogether — a foster home — that taught Mason structure and allowed him to enjoy his childhood for the first time. Today, Mason shares his experience with others, hoping he’ll inspire someone much like he was positively influenced upon meeting the right foster parent.

After seven years of being batted from house to house, at the age of 12 Mason was placed in what was supposed to be a temporary foster care home in Oakland. A woman named Mildred Walls, whom Mason today calls “Miss Walls,” took him in.

“I was only supposed to be there for three days,” Mason recalled. “When my social worker came back to get me, I barricaded myself in a room.”

Mason said he didn’t want to leave because, after years of living with his elderly grandmother followed by his abusive aunt, he felt he had finally found a home.

“She just basically showed me how a kid was supposed to live at that age,” Mason said of the relief he felt at Walls’ house.

Mason lived with Walls for the next decade, and upon turning 25 he in turn welcomed two teenage foster youths into his home through Seneca Family of Agencies, an Oakland-based foster service system celebrating its 30th anniversary this year.

“I can relate to about 95 percent of the kids in the system,” Mason said of why he became a foster parent.
Indeed, it is Mason’s unconventional notion of family that perhaps makes him an ideal foster parent, noted Ken Berrick, CEO of Seneca.

“[Mason] having been there allows him to understand the kid’s experience in a way that’s just a little bit deeper,” Berrick said.

But welcoming a stranger into his home — and a child with a storied past, nonetheless — is not all fun and games. Mason bonded over basketball with the first foster child placed in his home, a 16-year-old boy who lived with Mason for eight months, although the teen did not immediately open up.

“I’m new to this kid’s life,” Mason explained. “I know what it’s like to come to a house and expect to leave in two or three days.”
Not only had Mason, who was 26 at the time, and the teen both been placed in a multitude of foster homes, it turned out their childhoods prior to foster care were similar as well.

“When he finally opened up and told me about his childhood, it was exactly like mine,” Mason said.
More recently, Mason until January housed a 13-year-old boy from San Jose, who left behind his friends and family to live with Mason in Oakland. That was challenging, Mason noted, but he and his wife simply let the boy know that he had support.

“[There were] definitely some challenging moments. He wasn’t used to me, wasn’t used to my rules,” Mason said of the 13-year-old who lived with him for five months.

Though he is not fostering a child at the moment, earlier this year, Mason was hired as a program specialist at a child care center at Stanford University. He has also worked as a motivational speaker.

Mason is even scheduled to throw out the first pitch at the May 15 Oakland Athletic’s game for National Foster Care Month.

Today, Mason lives next door to Walls, his former foster parent, and hopes to continue sharing his experience to inspire troubled youths. He managed to walk past the gun battles and drug use in Oakland to graduate from high school with honors and attend Mendocino Community College in Ukiah for a year. He later pursued a bachelor’s of science degree from Walden University.

But it’s his roots in Oakland that Mason calls home, and hopes to let future foster kids call home too.

“This is my calling, this is what I want to do,” he said.

Read the original article here: https://www.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/dedicated-to-a-life-of-foster-care/Content?oid=2926203

Excerpt from:
To Improve School Discipline, Change Teacher Behavior
By Dani McClain, for Slate


A local partnership called All-In! places therapists and special-education specialists in elementary classrooms, helping teachers identify and address trauma-induced behavior and emotional problems that they might otherwise dismiss as mere misbehavior. Seneca Family of Agencies, a California child welfare organization, is expanding the approach to five Oakland and two San Francisco schools using a $3 million grant from a U.S. Department of Education innovation fund.

“Most teachers in urban schools have had the experience of asking for support for their kids and not getting it, or worse yet, being told that they were failing at some level,” said Ken Berrick, Seneca’s founder and CEO. While All-In! provides teachers with support that many crave, Berrick notes that they have to be open to gentle criticism and change, too. “Teachers who don’t work well in teams don’t do well in our model,” he said.

Read the entire original article here: https://www.slate.com/blogs/schooled/2015/01/22/school_discipline_bay_area_schools_cut_down_on_suspensions_by_targeting.html

Cops, Group Homes and Criminalized Kids

Allyson Bendell wasn’t always the most well behaved girl, but that didn’t make her a criminal either.

In the world of group homes, however, where staff who are often undertrained and overwhelmed try to manage the severe behaviors that foster youth disproportionately exhibit, calling the police, for some, has become a go-to method for controlling kids. A new law that went into affect the first of the new year is trying to change all that by forestalling excessive calls to police and, in so doing, mitigating the stigmatizing effect that contact with law enforcement invariably has on these youngsters.

Bendell, 17, is one of those kids, who for years, was frequently on the receiving end of the kind of unnecessary police intervention that the new law hopes to eliminate. She wound up bouncing through group homes and foster families because her emotional and behavioral issues made her difficult for less trained staff to handle. She was defiant, prone to outbursts—screaming, yelling, cussing—and running away. She threw temper tantrums. A lot.

She spent most of her life in foster care, beginning when she was age 5. Bendell said her mother and father’s parental rights were terminated when she was 7. One of her parents was in prison, the other homeless.

“The anger came from being alone,” Bendell said. “I wanted someone to love me.”

In her 12 years in the system, she moved through more than 30 foster care placements, including a string of foster families, two group homes and many emergency shelters, temporary housing for foster youth in between placements...

Read the entire original article here: https://chronicleofsocialchange.org/news/cops-group-homes-and-criminalized-kids/9109

Leading the way to happiness

Nancy Murphy has spent the past three decades changing children's lives. As Director of Kinship Center's Placement Programs for Northern California she and her team find new families for children up and down the central Coast who have been abandoned, neglect and abused. And now her expertise, commitment and leadership have been recognized. The Non-profit Alliance of Monterey County (NAMC) awarded Nancy its first annual Leadership Award at its 10th anniversary breakfast celebrated this past week at the Intercontinental Clement Hotel on Cannery Row.

"I want to thank NAMC for this recognition. It has been a work of love. I also want to recognize my colleagues – they make it all possible. And of course I want to recognize the families who step up to meet the needs of our beautiful youngsters. They are amazing!" Exclaims Nancy

Kinship Center celebrated its 30th anniversary this year and Nancy Murphy has been a constant, reliable leader and team member since the organization's earliest stage. Joining Kinship Center in 1985 and she took over the reins of the Adoption Placement Program within a few years and has led it since. Nancy and her team have finalized more than 100 child adoptions each year over the past two years. While Nancy manages the entire program, she still works cases and handles whatever is needed to expedite positive outcomes for children/families. She leads by example, gets involved and does what's best for children...

Read the entire original article here: https://www.thecalifornian.com/story/life/2014/12/12/leading-way-happiness/19976383/ 

California’s Katie A. Lawsuit Is a Symptom, Not a Solution for Child Welfare Woes

John Kelly, the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change, along with Chronicle reporter, Jeremy Loudenback, recently posted a well-written trilogy of articles discussing in detail the 12-year saga of the Katie A. v Bonta litigation in California. As a participant in the litigation settlement process, I encourage everyone to read these articles.

Unfortunately, Katie A. is just a symptom of a much more serious problem in California. Simply put, the care of the vulnerable, high-needs children and youth is not a priority. The state does good things for some children and youth not because it chooses to, but because it has been forced to by the courts or outside advocates.

In essence, there is no leadership at the state level. There is no champion for children.

In my 40-plus years of working with children and youth in both the public and private sector, I can say unequivocally that services to children and youth have not been driven by best practices or best interests, but instead by finances. To simplify the state’s approach even further, you could say they attempt to save money without causing too much damage.

Truth is, I cannot remember California initiating any great program for children and youth on its own. In the late seventies, the state was inundated with a burgeoning population of runaway, incorrigible and truant youth impacting the juvenile justice system...

Read the entire original article here: https://chronicleofsocialchange.org/opinion/californias-katie-a-lawsuit-is-a-symptom-not-a-solution-for-child-welfare-woes/8809

Kinship Center’s Nancy Murphy Receives Non-Profit Alliance of Monterey County’s Leadership Award

Salinas, CA; December 5, 2014…Nancy Murphy, Kinship Center’s Director of Placement Programs for Northern California, has been recognized with a Leadership Award by the Non-Profit Alliance of Monterey County (NAMC). The award was presented at NAMC’s 10th anniversary and non-profit awards celebration this week.

Kinship Center celebrated its 30th anniversary this year and Nancy Murphy has been a constant, reliable leader and team member since the organization’s earliest stage. Joining Kinship Center in 1985, she performed admirably as a dedicated social worker in the early years, which ties to her leadership style today. Nancy still works cases and handles whatever is needed to expedite positive outcomes for children/families. She leads by example, gets involved and does what’s best for children. 

“I want to thank NAMC and my colleagues for this recognition,” said Nancy Murphy. “It has been a work of love. I also want to recognize the families to who step up to meet the needs of our beautiful youngsters. They are amazing and we’ve been able to finalize more than 100 children’s adoptions in each of the past two years with these loving families. I also want to thank my own family for being so supportive.”

In her leadership role, Nancy manages 10 social workers and has helped expand foster care and adoption programs to serve families in six counties, including children and families in Monterey County. She’s developed an excellent working relationship with the Family and Children’s Services Branch of Monterey County Department of Social Services to support the agency’s critical efforts in the region. This includes implementing adoption home studies among other important needs like collaborative training and support groups. Partnering with Monterey County has been instrumental in allowing more kids to find permanent families. 

Nancy has been with Kinship Center for 29 years and under her leadership for past 20 years alone she’s helped find permanent loving families for more than 1,000 children. 

“She’s very supportive of her team and often pitches in and takes cases, picks up a baby at the hospital, does placement work, rather than just managing from her office,” said Kinship Center co-founder Carol Bishop. “This keeps her close to the work and things change over time, so it’s easier to manage and lead if you are calling on your experience today vs. years ago.”

A pleasure of Nancy’s work now is seeing the capability of the talented colleagues she manages to do her job in the future, as they continue to develop. 

Kinship Center, a member of the Seneca Family of Agencies, serves more than 1,500 children and families in Monterey, San Benito, and San Luis Obispo Counties each year. Kinship Center merged with Seneca Family of Agencies in 2011. The two organizations’ missions dovetailed, as did their commitment to Unconditional Care which means that the organization and its partners will undertake whatever is required to help children and families thrive, even when faced with tremendous challenges. Seneca family of Agencies collaborates with regional partners in education, mental health, child welfare, and juvenile probation to develop innovative programs that annually serve thousands of children and their families. Visit www.kinshipcenter.org and www.senecacenter.org  for more information.

California’s Katie A. Lawsuit Is a Symptom, Not a Solution for Child Welfare Woes

John Kelly, the editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change, along with Chronicle reporter, Jeremy Loudenback, recently posted a well-written trilogy of articles discussing in detail the 12-year saga of the Katie A. v Bonta litigation in California. As a participant in the litigation settlement process, I encourage everyone to read these articles.

Unfortunately, Katie A. is just a symptom of a much more serious problem in California. Simply put, the care of the vulnerable, high-needs children and youth is not a priority. The state does good things for some children and youth not because it chooses to, but because it has been forced to by the courts or outside advocates.

In essence, there is no leadership at the state level. There is no champion for children.

... In the early nineties, Intensive Therapeutic Foster Care (ITFC) was implemented as a pilot project. This was by no means an innovation initiated by the California Department of Social Services; it was the result of a tenacious, creative provider, Ken Berrick, CEO of Seneca Center, as a way to serve youth exiting their residential treatment program, which happened to be substantially cheaper than keeping them in the group home...

Read the entire original article here: https://chronicleofsocialchange.org/opinion/californias-katie-a-lawsuit-is-a-symptom-not-a-solution-for-child-welfare-woes/8809

A Better Ground Game for Building Professional Child Welfare Workers
by Ken Berrick

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment of social workers is expected to increase nearly 20 percent by 2022. While much of this demand will be for geriatric social workers to meet the needs of aging baby boomers, new child and family social workers are urgently needed to address the effects of child poverty, family homelessness, parental addiction, and child abuse and neglect.

For children and adolescents who witness or experience violence in their neighborhoods, schools and homes, social workers are often the first and only responders available to ease their suffering and ameliorate the long-term, deleterious impacts of multiple and repeated traumas.

In California, where one out of every four children lives in poverty, there is a critical need for more clinical social workers who are trained and experienced to effectively treat child traumatic stress and its lasting effects.

California requires a mental health workforce that reflects the state’s increasing ethnic and cultural diversity. Bilingual and bicultural mental health professionals continue to be in very short supply, and the demand for services among immigrant and other cultural minority populations is significant and growing...

Read the entire original article here: https://chronicleofsocialchange.org/opinion/a-better-ground-game-for-building-professional-child-welfare-workers/8816 

Celebrating National Adoption Month

November has been designated “National Adoption Month.” An official adoption week was set by President Ronald Reagan and later extended to adoption month by President Bill Clinton with a purpose of raising awareness of the need for adoptive families for children in foster care.

This year’s emphasis is “Promoting and Supporting Sibling Connections,” focusing on the unique bond that exists between siblings.

Seneca Orange County’s adoption program provides children with permanent, loving homes. The services include specialized education and preparation for adoptive parents, appropriate matching of perspective parents with children and individualized services for each child. On-going professional support, including post-adoption counseling is made available. Birth parents are also given free counseling services, assistance in exploring options and continuous support.

Read the entire original article here: https://www.ocregister.com/articles/adoption-642379-church-family.html

Kinship Center offers fundraising Shuvundah

How do 80 women help change children's lives and have fun doing it? They host a Shuvundah — the hallmark event of Kinship Support Unlimited (KSU) a vibrant Kinship Center Women's Auxiliary centered on the Highway 68/River Road corridors. The Shuvundah is a unique Sunday afternoon event where members and their friends bring forgotten treasures that have been 'shoved under' the bed to be auctioned off and become someone else's treasure.

"It's a tea party PLUS! We start with tea served in china cups and then move on to champagne, wine and some really fabulous food that members create," explains Shuvundah Coordinator Kathy Knutson. "But the real fun centers on the live auction. Monika (KSU co-founder Monika Fewtrell) really keeps the energy high. Most important everyone in that room knows that every dollar raised will change kids' lives."

KSU was founded in 2009 to support Kinship Center programs serving kids who have experienced abuse, neglect and other traumas. The auxiliary's fundraisers have purchased textbooks, academic equipment, and living necessities for former foster children struggling to complete their education; and supported Kinship Center's Family Ties program which gives critical support to older adults raising grandchildren who have been abused, neglected or abandoned.

Other KSU activities include supporting Kinship Center's annual holiday celebration for adoptive families, organizing the Kinship Center backpack program, and handcrafting beautiful Easter baskets for the Family Ties' grandmothers.

Read the entire original article here: https://www.thecalifornian.com/story/life/2014/11/10/kinship-center-offers-fundraising-shuvundah/18678549/

Salinas-based Kinship Center celebrates 30th anniversary

SALINAS >> It was 1984. Scientists announced the discovery of the AIDS virus, Apple computers launched the Macintosh into the U.S. market to great fanfare, and the Chicago White Sox defeated the Milwaukee Brewers in 25 innings stretching across eight hours and six minutes — the longest game in the history of Major League Baseball.

About the same time, the Children's Home Society of California, a statewide adoption agency with a history dating back to the 1800s, announced it would no longer operate in Monterey County.

Carol Bishop and Carol Biddle had been working for the organization for many years, and the community response was overwhelming, Bishop said. They were told, "you can't do that."

"There was quite a rally of community support to continue our work here, and Carol and I naively said, 'how hard could it be to start an organization?' Bishop said. "We were halfway through the process when we realized it would be harder than we thought."

Thus was born the Kinship Center, an organization that helps children who can no longer stay with their birth families find a safe home and strengthen their ties with a new family...

Read the entire original article here: https://www.montereyherald.com/news/ci_26449372/salinas-based-kinship-center-celebrates-30th-anniversary

Families of mentally ill children struggle for access to residential treatment

The first time Emily tried to kill herself, at age 15, she swallowed the entire contents of a bottle of Prozac, along with some Sudafed and Claritin she found in the medicine cabinet.

“Mom,” she said as they sped to the emergency room that morning in May 2012, “I just want to die.”

Doctors at Sierra Vista psychiatric hospital in south Sacramento stabilized the girl after two weeks, then referred her to an adolescent facility in San Francisco, which eventually sent her home.

Read the entire original article here: https://www.sacbee.com/2014/08/24/6649568/families-of-mentally-ill-children.html#storylink=cpy

BAY AREA NEWS GROUP INVESTIGATION - DRUGGING OUR KIDS Children in California’s foster care system are prescribed unproven, risky medications at alarming rates

They are wrenched from abusive homes, uprooted again and again, often with their life’s belongings stuffed into a trash bag.

Abandoned and alone, they are among California’s most powerless children. But instead of providing a stable home and caring family, the state’s foster care system gives them a pill.

With alarming frequency, foster and health care providers are turning to a risky but convenient remedy to control the behavior of thousands of troubled kids: numbing them with psychiatric drugs that are untested on and often not approved for children...

Read the entire article here: https://webspecial.mercurynews.com/druggedkids/

Dione Mason: From Foster Youth to Foster Parent

Dione Mason knows all too well what it means to overcome adversity and that you have to play the cards that life deals to you.

A former foster youth, he overcame many odds and has become an educator and productive community activist. He now works as an After School Instructor and Physical Education teacher at E.C. Reems Academy of Technology and Arts in Oakland.

Mason has always known he wanted to make changes in the same system in which he was raised – by touching the life of another young person.

He found a way to do that by working with Seneca Family of Agencies, a leading innovator in the field of education, community-based and family-focused treatment services for children and families...

Read the entire original article here: https://postnewsgroup.com/blog/2014/08/14/dione-mason-foster-youth-foster-parent/

Oakland: 27-year-old former foster child now fostering teen

Oakland -- One evening, Paris Mason made about five pounds of chicken, macaroni and cheese, salad and cookies to last for the week. As young newlyweds, she and her husband, Dione Mason, stay busy. At E.C. Reems, a charter school in East Oakland, she is the after-school coordinator and a substitute teacher and he is the P.E. teacher and coaches a youth basketball team.

They ate just a few pieces of chicken and put the leftovers away. But when they returned to the kitchen, no chicken was left over.

"You would have thought a whole football team ran through the house," Dione Mason said.

"I think he saw it as a green light: 'This is my time to eat, '" Dione Mason said. "You hear stories about foster care homes where the fridge and kitchen cabinets are chained up and locked."

Twenty-seven-year-old Dione Mason knows well the plight of foster care youth. Not too long ago, he was a foster youth himself. Both of their mothers abused drugs. At age 6, Dione Mason found himself in Mildred Walls' home, which he describes as filled with unconditional love.

"I was one of her sons, one of her nephews, one of her grandsons," he said. "If she could take care of something like me at her age, in her 50s, I thought when I come of age, 'Why not?'"

Dione Mason said that when he was 18 years old, he decided he would someday become a foster parent, determined to provide another child the support he had. After community college, he attended Northwestern University, majoring in criminal justice and hoping to become a cop, and graduated. But many foster children do not go to college.

Dione Mason said he wants to help his foster son avoid becoming another statistic. The teen wants to go into the military, and they are talking about a summer job at Jamba Juice and looking at colleges.

"We talk about how we can get him to those next steps," Dione Mason said. "I want the best for (him). Whatever he wants to accomplish, that's what I want."

His foster son is quiet, so they bonded over basketball, and because he likes photography, Dione Mason is encouraging him to build a portfolio. As a family, they have movie nights, take trips to Great America and go bowling.

"He looks at me like I'm his big brother," Dione Mason said. "That's fine, but I'm also your guardian."

They stand eye-to-eye, so when Dione Mason looks at him, it forces him to stare straight back and the foster son knows he means business.
As with any typical teen, Dione Mason has to reinforce bedtimes and to ask him to clean his room; video games often take priority.

"My wife will open his door, and it's like whoa, a tornado came though," he said. "Sometimes I ask if he needs help cleaning. Sometimes it takes 10 knocks on the door for him to do it."

Only 11 years older, Dione Mason knows how playing Xbox can trump homework, sleep and cleaning.

"Dione is young enough that he would understand, and he's old enough to set parameters," said E.C. Reems Principal Lisa Blair. "There's a bond."

Because of their mothers, Dione Mason said they both struggled with trusting women.

"It took me a long time to be in a stable relationship," he said. "I was able to give him some feedback on how I dealt with that."
At his school, Dione Mason finds that the students look up at him and relate to his story.

"They're like, 'Wow.' They kind of want to be under me," he said. "They see the drug dealers and the rappers on TV. They want to be like them until I tell them there's more to life than degrading a female, standing on the corner or having a big car with nice rims."

But Dione Mason has lots of questions himself about how to raise his foster son. Being a new parent is difficult, but even more so is parenting an older child. He turns to his colleagues, Blair, his wife, social workers and even his foster mother.

"It's hard to also wear that father hat," he said, "but they're rooting for me."

That network of support is what he and his wife want to offer other foster youth. They are in the beginning stages of starting a nonprofit that would provide mentorship focusing on health and physical fitness to children ages 9 to 13.

"We've learned so much from our foster son," Paris Mason said. "We have our challenges, but it's really rewarding."

Read the entire original article here: https://www.contracostatimes.com/news/ci_25981601/oakland-27-year-old-f

Foster Care Father Dione Mason is Today’s Honoree

Dione Mason is an unusual young man who turned difficult early life circumstances into a life of giving back while still in his mid-20s. Dione, from Oakland, California, was a foster child through Seneca Family of Agencies for more than six years starting as a pre-teen.

Fortunately, Dione had a terrific foster care support system during these early years; an amazing foster mother and Seneca social worker who were there to help him through a multitude of challenges. Seneca’s foster care program provided Unconditional Care and strong encouragement, which are at the heart of the organization’s many programs. Fast-forward to today and Dione is in his mid-20s and a happy, healthy school teacher, basketball coach and foster parent to a 15-year-old young man who is in the very same Seneca foster care program that gave Dione so much support. Dione wanted to become a foster parent as soon as he could, at age 25.

Dione’s foster son is a 15-year-old boy and Dione can relate to him and talk to him, because it wasn’t all that long ago that Dione was dealing with the same issues and emotions. According to the Children’s Law Center, 46 percent of foster children don’t finish high school, and 30 percent of foster kids end up homeless as adults. Dione hopes that by being a good influence with his unusual experience in his foster son’s shoes, he’ll be able to help keep the young man on the right path.

 Dione is planning to get married next year and would like to be a police officer. For more about Dione’s story please reach out to Phillip Bergman.

Read the entire original article here: https://todayshonoree.wordpress.com/2014/06/12/foster-care-father-dione-mason-is-todays-honoree/

USC Offers First Master of Social Work Program within Family Services Agency

USC School of Social Work Executive Vice Dean Paul Maiden, fourth from left, and the first Seneca MSW@USC cohort . The USC School of Social Work has teamed with California nonprofit Seneca Family of Agencies to offer the first Master of Social Work degree program within a child and family services agency. This innovative graduate program enables Seneca employees to earn a top-tier MSW using USC’s online learning platform while they gain real-world social work experience. Seneca MSW@USC students will continue to be paid as full-time agency employees while receiving substantial tuition assistance from both Seneca and USC.

“This is our first community partnership of ‘embedding’ our MSW program in an agency,” said Paul Maiden, executive vice dean at the USC School of Social Work, who spoke at Seneca’s kick-off celebration in April. “These types of partnerships are enormously important employee retention opportunities for agencies that are investing in their human capital.”

Seneca encourages its employees—whether they are counselors, mental health assistants or case assistants—to apply for the seven-semester degree program, which is billed as an exclusive company benefit for personnel seeking professional growth and the means to a highly respected, yet affordable graduate degree. In turn, Seneca hopes the program will help it sustain a highly qualified clinical staff.

“Many community-based organizations are unable to recruit and retain social workers who reflect the diverse populations they serve,” said Ken Berrick, CEO of Seneca Family of Agencies. “This program enables us to recruit nationally, while supporting dedicated practitioners who otherwise may not have the opportunity to reach their clinical and professional potential.”

“In the end, Seneca’s services and supports for children and families will be even better, and there will be a more competent and diverse social worker workforce to address the future needs of our communities,” he added.

A growing need The Bureau of Labor Statistics points to a very favorable job outlook for the profession, highlighting a significant national need for competent social workers trained to serve families that struggle with profound emotional, psychological and financial challenges.

Berrick anticipates a continuing need for MSW graduates to staff Seneca’s social service, mental health and education programs – even after hiring nearly 400 new clinicians from 2009 to 2014. The organization operates in 12 counties across California, providing services for nearly 6,000 youth and their families.

One of the first 11 students accepted to the program is Alexandra Riley-Sorem whose interest in social justice began in junior high as an advocate for migrant workers, Planned Parenthood clients and gay classmates. “I feel in every fiber of my being that everybody deserves to be treated well and that people should support each other,” she wrote in her application.

Riley-Sorem thinks she’s an ideal candidate for the program having grown from her own experiences with therapy to those of her clients she has served. “I developed a respect for the therapeutic process, as well as a better understanding of the behaviors and needs of people who have experienced trauma,” she said.

A Seneca employee for nine years, Riley-Sorem applied to the Seneca MSW@USC program for its promise of a theoretical, research-based curriculum she hopes will help her improve her ability to service her clients and create positive change in the field. She said it didn’t hurt that she can keep her day job, and she won’t have to commute!

The Seneca MSW@USC program will also be available on an advanced standing basis for individuals who hold a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree, but are not currently employed by Seneca. They can participate in the four-semester advanced standing option, as long as they apply for employment with Seneca and MSW@USC admission, and are accepted. This accelerated alternative enables students to complete their degree in just 35 units (as opposed to the traditional 60 units) for a little over half the tuition of a standard USC MSW degree.

All Seneca MSW@USC students will take part in live online classes utilizing an interactive, web-based learning platform that connects them with other students from all over the country. The interface is reminiscent of “Hollywood Squares,” where classmates appear in a grid-like screen on the computer for face-to-face interaction. Additionally, students can link up in study groups and chat sessions – just like they already do on many of today’s popular social networking sites. The online curriculum is the same as that of the campus-based program, but with the addition of an elective course on Seneca’s therapeutic practice model.

The Seneca MSW@USC program for current agency employees starts in May. Applications from individuals with a BSW degree will be accepted from May through July for admission to the advanced standing program beginning in January 2015.

For more information, please visit www.senecamsw.org.

For the original article, please visit: https://sowkweb.usc.edu/news/usc-offers-first-master-social-work-program-within-family-services-agency


(See original story at: https://www.ocregister.com/articles/children-614830-vice-canyon.html )

California Mental Health Advocates recently named Ken Berrick, chief executive of Seneca Family of Agencies, advocate of the year for children and youth.

Berrick was commended for his passionate dedication to working with families as well as such creative innovative approaches as Unconditional Care. This therapeutic method helps identify underlying traumas that have affected children.

Seneca Orange County maintains solid public and private partnerships, which help to build strong, healthy, safe families for children. In collaboration with Orange County’s Behavioral Health Services and its division of Children and Youth Mental Health, Seneca has worked with many local youth-serving organizations. Some of these include: Olive Crest, Hands Together, Court-Appointed Special Advocates, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Girls, Children’s Home Society and Boys & Girls Clubs.

In 2011 and 2012, Seneca Family of Agencies merged with Anaheim Hill’s Canyon Acres and Kinship Center to structure an even greater range of comprehensive adoption, mental health and educational support for at risk families. More than 1,000 children in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties are receiving the benefit of these collaborative programs.

Read the entire original article here: https://www.ocregister.com/articles/children-614830-vice-canyon.html

Seneca Welcomes First MSW@USC Class

Congratulations to the inaugural cohort of Seneca MSW@USC students! Alexandra Riley-Sorem, Bianca Polen, Caleb Hervey, Elizabeth Roskos, Janelle Peters, Kaycee Hasan, Kimberley Mangarin, Lauren Cornwall, Saskia Salm, Sheila Mellati, and Veronica Landaverde began the University of Southern California’s Master of Social Work seven-semester degree program this month. Upon completion of 60 units of USC coursework, including classes taught by Seneca’s own leaders—Melissa Mollard and John Sprinson—and 1,000 hours of fieldwork in Seneca programs, these Seneca employees will earn the same MSW degree on-campus students receive. The difference is instead of going to campus, they will “attend” graduate school through USC’s Virtual Academic Center, a highly interactive web-based learning platform, while working as full-time Seneca employees with full wages and benefits.

Also this month, Seneca begins accepting applications for the Seneca MSW@USC Advanced Standing program, a four-semester option for candidates who hold a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree. The deadline to apply for the January program is July 15, 2014.

"Even though I’ve always intended to return to school to obtain a master’s in social work, I’ve been concerned that it would be too much of a financial strain for me and my family to bear. With the support of USC and Seneca, I now have the opportunity to continue working full-time while earning a substantial scholarship, making possible my dream of becoming a community-based family therapist."  

- Current Seneca MSW@USC student/employee

Students enrolled in both the seven-semester and advanced standing accelerated programs receive significant financial support from Seneca and USC. If you are interested in helping future students pursue their dream of a Master of Social Work degree, please consider donating to Seneca’s MSW Scholarship Fund

For additional information click here.

Anti-Bullying Campaign - Letter to the Editor

Dear Sir or Madam:

The irony of bullying is that while it is an intensely personal problem, it can only be addressed with a community-wide effort. Which is only fitting, because bullying affects the mental health and well being of the entire community in which it occurs. For this reason, South County: United for Health (a federally funded project coordinated by the Santa Clara County Public Health Department) has provided leadership in this area and has partnered with Seneca Family of Agencies to implement anti-bullying programs in Gilroy and Morgan Hill elementary schools and expanding them to community-based organizations, including after-school programs, sports programs and health centers. The success of these programs is well documented. Studies show that school-based intervention programs reduce bullying by more than 20%, and pay for themselves if they can prevent just two students from leaving or transferring schools because of bullying. When we intervene at multiple levels, by aligning teachers, parents, students and the community with proven anti-bullying strategies and mental health supports, we can create an inclusive no-bullying culture. We salute South County: United for Health and partners for their leadership in thinking broadly about the impact of inclusive and positive school culture and climate on students’ success and well being.



Ken Berrick, CEO
Seneca Family of Agencies

Click to download PDF version

Kinship Center Celebrates 30 Years!

Congratulations to our Monterey County programs on 30 years of service!

Carmel Magazine published an article about Kinship Center's 30 years of helping the children and families of Monterey County. Read all about it on Carmel Magazines website here:

Read the entire original article here: https://www.carmelmagazine.com/archive/14sp/kinship-center.shtml 

All-In Reimagines the School Ecosystem

Colorlines.com details Seneca's innovative All-In program and its goal "to reimagine how schools treat challenging students". The article focuses on the sucess they have already seen so far from the approach to sustain a spectrum of services to support the entire school community with all students included.

Read the entire original article here: https://colorlines.com/archives/2014/05/race_disability_and_the_school_to_prison_pipeline.html

USC Extends Master of Social Work Program Reach; Highlights U.S. Demand for Social Workers

April 4, 2014 - Press Release: The University of Southern California School of Social Work (USC) is teaming with California nonprofit Seneca Family of Agencies to create a novel program that highlights the significant national need for social workers equipped to serve families that struggle with profound emotional, psychological and financial challenges.


USC is partnering with Seneca to -offer a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree program within a child and family services agency for the first time in the United States. Seneca Family of Agencies, which has a 30-year history of helping children, youth and families to succeed through their most difficult times, will implement USC’s MSW degree program within many of its service sites throughout California. This innovative graduate program will enable Seneca employees and Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) graduates from throughout the nation to earn a top-ranked MSW degree, using USC’s online learning platform while they gain real-world social work experience. Seneca MSW@USC students will continue to be paid as full-time agency employees, while receiving substantial tuition assistance from both Seneca and USC.


“This is our first community partnership of ‘embedding’ our MSW program in an agency. It represents a wonderful ‘town and gown’ initiative that will further enhance the professionalization of a multi-faceted family service agency,” said Paul Maiden, executive vice dean at the USC School of Social Work. “These types of partnerships can raise the standards for professional human services delivery across the country. It is an enormously important employee retention opportunity for agencies that are investing in their human capital. And, of course, there is the ‘Trojan pride’ factor that has a multiplier effect for the agency, employee and the School of Social Work.” According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment of social workers is expected to increase nearly 20 percent by 2022 ( https://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm#t... ), reflecting the needs of at-risk children and families throughout the country.


“It’s important that MSW degree programs integrate theory and practice, and this partnership with USC is designed to fulfill that critical need,” said Ken Berrick, CEO of Seneca Family of Agencies. “Many community-based organizations are unable to recruit and retain social workers who reflect the diverse populations they serve. This program enables us to recruit nationally, while supporting dedicated practitioners who otherwise may not have the opportunity to reach their clinical and professional potential. In the end, Seneca’s services and supports for children and families will be even better, and there will be a more competent and diverse social worker workforce to address the future needs of our communities.”


Seneca Family of Agencies, which hired nearly 400 new clinicians from early 2009 to 2014, anticipates a continuing need for MSW graduates to staff its wide array of social service, mental health, and education programs. The organization operates in 12 counties across California, providing services for nearly 6,000 unduplicated youth and their families during 2013.


The Seneca MSW@USC program for current agency employees, which includes coursework in Seneca’s Unconditional Care treatment framework, starts May 2014. Applications from individuals with a BSW degree, recruited nationally, will be accepted from May through July 2014 for admission to the advanced standing MSW program that begins in January 2015. Additional information can be found at www.SenecaMSW.org.


About the USC School of Social Work


The University of Southern California's School of Social Work ranks among the top accredited social work graduate programs in the United States. A recognized leader in academic innovation, experiential learning, online education and translational research, the school prepares students for leadership roles in public and private organizations that serve individuals, families and communities in need. USC is dedicated to reinventing the profession, furthering knowledge and changing social institutions locally, nationally and globally. The school has made innovation a signature feature of its academic and research enterprise, leveraging technology in social work education, clinical practice, research and community development, as evidenced through the creation of an advanced online platform for distance learning, virtual humans for graduate-level teaching, and a university-based clinic offering mental health services over the Internet. For more information, visit www.usc.edu/socialwork.

We are excited to announce that Seneca has won the employee's choice "Best Medium-Size Companies to Work for in 2014" award from Glassdoor.com! Thanks to all our amazing staff and supporters for making this a great place to work!


Check out the full list at Glassdoor!