NEWS // August 28, 2015

South Bay Community Services’ Mi Escuelita Therapeutic Preschool Helps Children Affected by Domestic Violence and Abuse

It's no wonder that children who face severe, and often multiple risk factors, have also historically led poor academic outcomes. Home life stressors such as a parent’s alcoholism or drug abuse, domestic violence and economic challenges create barriers for children’s health and learning. And then, there are some children who face traumas that no one at any age should face.

South Bay Community Services’ Mi Escuelita Therapeutic Preschool is the only one of its kind designed especially for children affected by domestic violence and abuse to help break the cycle of violence, help children heal and begin the right path for school. Mi Escuelita is free and full day tailored to the needs of children ages three to five who have been traumatized by family violence, abuse and/or neglect.

Children who have been exposed to domestic violence are more likely than their peers to experience a wide range of difficulties that affect their development, education and health.

Currently, Mi Escuelita has four little ones who have either been witness to a parent’s murder or have lost a parent due domestic violence. Many of the children are in foster care or being raised by a grandparent or single parent who is also learning to heal.

Children are referred to Mi Escuelita by law enforcement, child welfare services, health centers, domestic violence programs and other community based programs. Enrollment has been steady since its opening often with 50+ children on the waiting list at any given time.

Every child responds differently to trauma associated with violence/abuse/neglect, depending on temperament, coping skills, developmental stage, and support system, and so the program provides a range of therapeutic, developmental, and educational activities in a safe, healthy environment. The program includes intake and assessment, the evidence-based Incredible Years and Houghton Mifflin PRE-K curricula, children’s group counseling, Healthy Development Services, Community Services for Families, and children’s mental health services, all integrated into a therapeutic preschool program.

Preschool hours are Monday – Friday, 8:30 AM - 5:00 PM. SBCS provides free daily transportation to and from the school site for children living in our shelter programs.

The children’s activities are designed to be both accessible and appropriate for this population’s unique needs, while the workshops and other supports for parents, together with the highly trained teachers, create a learning environment that positively impacts the children’s physical, mental, social, emotional, and developmental well-being. The program also has two full-time therapists who provide groups and work one-on-one with the children.

A multi-disciplinary team, which may include SBCS’ Child Development Specialist, the Shelter Associate, and representatives from Child Welfare Services, Para Las Familias, CVESD, SBCS’ CSF, HDS, and children’s mental health programs meets monthly to adjust services to meet current needs, address and resolve challenges, evaluate the progress of the collaboration, and coordinate outreach. The preschool maintains close linkages with the on-site Family Resource Center that provides health and social support and is an enrollment entity for the Medi-Cal Program. Although other school readiness services are available in the South Bay, their experience is that these children and families experience multiple barriers that prevent them from accessing or utilizing these services. Mi Escuelita addresses all of these barriers.

Since it opened in 2006, the preschool has demonstrated outstanding success rates. For example, during FY 11/12, 100% of Mi Escuelita students enrolled in the program maintained or increased his or her proficiency across one or more of the 7 DRDP domains (Self and Social Development, Language and Literacy Development, English Language Development (for English Language Learners), Cognitive Development, Mathematical Development, Physical Development and Health). For English Language Learners, the average student increased his or her proficiency in English Language Development by 99%. Also, 100% of parents reported being “very satisfied” or “satisfied” with the overall quality of the program, and 100% of parents felt that their child was both safe and happy in the program. Results of a longitudinal study by UCSD of Mi Escuelita students who have gone on to kindergarten, show that they continue to excel, and score similarly or better than their elementary school counterparts.

While it is impossible to know the continued circumstances surrounding the lives of Mi Escuelita children as they age and move through the elementary years, there is solace in recognizing that these children, who faced significant, traumatic life experiences at very young ages, continue to perform as well on key indicators of academic success as their peers who did not experience the same types of events.

Mi Escuelita uses a trauma-informed, therapeutic approach to preschool education. Mi Escuelita recently expanded and now has the capacity to provide child abuse prevention and educational services for 72 children in need. We have a brief and exceptional window of opportunity to help these extremely vulnerable children, and the Mi Escuelita program and staff strive to assist them to develop emotionally, socially, and developmentally, so that they can enter kindergarten ready to learn, and ultimately succeed, thrive, and reach their highest potential.