For Immediate Release
Sonoma County launching $27 million program to expand local mental health services for foster youth
SANTA ROSA, CA | October 03, 2023
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors today unanimously approved the creation of a three-year pilot program to expand local mental health services for foster youth who are often sent to other counties for placement in intensive residential treatment programs.
The creation of a Short-Term Residential Therapeutic Program at the Valley of the Moon Children’s Center will shorten wait times for treatment and reduce disruption to the lives of foster youth by enabling them to remain in Sonoma County, making it easier to maintain supportive connections with family and friends.
Sonoma County is only the second county in California to obtain state licensing to operate its own Short-Term Residential Therapeutic Program. The program, overseen by the county’s Human Services Department in partnership with the Department of Health Services, will open next summer.
“We now have space for this program at Valley of the Moon Children’s Center thanks to the success of our efforts helping local foster youth move out of institutions and into more familial home environments,” said Supervisor Chris Coursey, chair of the Board of Supervisors. “This program will buttress those efforts by ensuring that youth who require intensive therapy get the treatment they need, without delay or disruption, and put them on a path to a successful adulthood.”
The pilot program is expected to cost a total of $27 million to create and operate over three years. State and federal funding will cover the majority of the costs; the remaining $9.5 million will be funded by reallocating money the county currently receives from the state for health and human services and utilizing $1.65 million from Measure O, the quarter-cent sales tax approved by Sonoma County voters in 2020 to pay for mental health and homelessness services.
Short-Term Residential Therapeutic Programs are designed to support foster youth who have experienced trauma and are affected by complex mental health issues that prevent them from safely living within a family or independent living environment. The goal is to transition these youth back to a family or independent living environment as soon as they are able to be safe and successful in these settings.
At any given time the Human Services Department’s Family, Youth and Children’s Division is helping approximately 430 minor foster youth who require placement services. Of those, 6 to 8 percent need intensive treatment to address issues associated with trauma, mental health, and/or substance use. Currently, most Sonoma County youths who require these services wait an average of six to nine months at Valley of the Moon Children’s Center for placement in a higher-level therapeutic environment, reflecting a shortage of local programs that can meet their needs. Eighty percent of these youths are ultimately placed in Short-Term Residential Therapeutic Programs outside Sonoma County, making it difficult for them to maintain connections with friends and family while requiring them to leave the community they know.
The pilot program will have the capacity for 16 youth at a time, with four short-term beds used for assessment and 12 beds for intensive treatment and supervision lasting three to 12 months.
Established in 1976, Valley of the Moon’s Children’s Center is Sonoma County’s only 24-hour emergency shelter for foster youth. Over the last six years, the shelter has gone from serving approximately 300 youth annually to approximately 115, the result of the county’s efforts to place foster youth in homes where they are nurtured in a family environment. This, in turn, has created room at the shelter to open a Short-Term Residential Therapeutic Program, which will be staffed with 22 residential counselors, two behavioral health clinicians, one social worker, six supervisors, a residential clinical manager as well as medical and support staff that are shared with the Children’s Home shelter.