The transition into foster care can be a difficult process for children and their families, but having access to behavioral health services can help make it easier. The County of San Diego Behavioral Health Services offers many programs that support families through this transition. One program that aims to enhance family functioning and improve mental health through parenting groups and individual and family therapy is Incredible Families offered by Vista Hill, a social service organization dedicated to serving people with behavioral health conditions.
Incredible Families implements the “Incredible Years” curriculum, an evidence-based parent training model, as an in-depth 15 week program. The goal is to create a safe reunification for the parents and children and ensure that all members of the family have the skills to flourish in many areas of their life, such as at school or work.
“Incredible Years” works closely with County of San Diego Child Welfare Services (CWS) and receives all referrals for their parenting groups from CWS social workers. One component of the program is the provision of mental health therapy for children ages 2-14 who meet criteria for the services. The program utilizes a brief therapy model and provides interventions such as Art and Play Therapy, which is offered to the child/children while the parent is participating in the Incredible Years Parent Group.
“Incredible Families is so important for families during this time of transition as they work towards reunification because it supports the mental health and well-being of the entire family,” says Program Manager Elle Black. “The program provides a bundle of needed services all in one place, making it easier and more collaborative for families who often times feel like they don’t have support elsewhere and don’t know how to move forward.”
The uniqueness and value of this program can be highlighted through a South County group that was started specifically for fathers. At first, participants were hesitant to engage in the parenting group. The fathers maintained a guarded exterior, frequently saying that they were raised with harsh parenting techniques by their own parents yet they turned out fine. They did not want to overly nurture their children and preferred to have their children fear them. As the group progressed, numerous fathers disclosed to staff members their own childhood abuse and neglect for the first time. As a group, the fathers began to discuss how trauma impacted them growing up, and how it has affected their parenting. They began to engage more with their children, taking a more nurturing and positive approach, and excitedly planned for program graduation. One father became actively engaged in the program’s Alumni group and has attended every event since his graduation from the program, including running for a position and offering to help start the Alumni group in North County.
For more information about transitional therapy programs, please contact Eileen Quinn-O’Malley from the County of San Diego Behavioral Health Services at Eileen.Quinn-OMalley@sdcounty.ca.gov or 619-584-5046.