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Department of Human Services

For Immediate Release

Sonoma County opens $27 million pilot program to improve local mental health services for foster youth

SANTA ROSA, CA | July 10, 2024

A three-year pilot program that will provide intensive mental health treatment to foster youth in crisis opened today at Valley of the Moon Children’s Center. This program provides the County with a major new resource that will reduce the number of local foster youth who are sent out of Sonoma County for placement in residential treatment programs. 

The new program 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, approved by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in October, is overseen by the county’s Human Services Department in partnership with the Department of Health Services.

“The welfare of children is a community responsibility,” said Supervisor David Rabbitt, chair of the Board of Supervisors. “This is an investment by our community in a particularly vulnerable group of children who have been neglected or abused. This treatment program will not only improve their immediate well-being, but it will also help them develop crucial skills that will reduce their reliance on government safety net programs later on in their lives.”

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 setting. The goal is to transition these youths back to their families or another family home or, in some cases, to an 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. Until now, more than 80 percent of local foster youth who needed this type of treatment were sent to other counties because there was not enough room in programs operated by two local nonprofits. Most of these individuals waited six to nine months at Valley of the Moon Children’s Center for placement in a higher-level therapeutic environment that could meet their needs.

The pilot program will have the capacity for 16 youths at a time, with four short-term beds used for assessment and 12 beds for intensive treatment and supervision lasting three to 12 months. It welcomed four youths into the program today, its first day of operation. By year two, program managers anticipate serving at least 20 children annually.

Established in 1976, Valley of the Moon’s Children’s Center houses Sonoma County’s only 24-hour emergency shelter for foster youth. Over the last six years, the shelter has gone from serving approximately 300 children 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 on its campus 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 shelter.

“Valley of the Moon Children’s Center is a caring, stable place where children who were neglected, abandoned or abused can begin to heal from trauma,” said District 1 Supervisor Susan Gorin, who represents the area. “You can help, too, by volunteering to become a foster parent or donating to the Valley of the Moon Children’s Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the health, well-being and education of current and former foster youth in Sonoma County.”

Media Contact:
Ted Appel, Communications Specialist
(707) 565-3040
575 Administration Drive, Suite 104A
Santa Rosa, CA 95403