Parents and Caregivers Take Action in L.A.

Parents and Caregivers Take Action in L.A.

On February 23-24, 2018, Parents and Caregivers for Wellness (PC4W) brought together over 200 parents, educators, clinicians, and caregivers for a two-day training on how to best meet young people’s social and emotional needs. The event, held at the Haynes Family of Programs in La Verne, California, featured workshops, interactive discussions, and opportunities for parent and caregiver advocates to meet with decision-makers and providers.

The PC4W collaborative was formed in 2017 to strengthen parent and caregiver voice, and to improve mental health services and supports for families across the state. Project partners consist of parent and caregiver-run organizations and legal advocates for youth from across California, including United ParentsCalifornia Alliance of Caregivers, California Mental Health Advocates for Children and Youth (CMHACY), Capital Adoptive Families Alliance, Children’s Law Center of California (CLC), East Bay Children’s Law Offices (EBCLO), and Young Minds Advocacy.

The Los Angeles County-focused training united attendees from Claremont, San Bernardino, Riverside, L.A., and surrounding areas. Some, such as Keyana Lee, a Claremont mom of five, came for assistance in strengthening their own families.

“I really appreciated getting materials on the various supports and groups out there,” said Lee. “I don’t know if my son has been getting what he needs, but after this training, I’m ready to educate myself. Today was helpful.”

Other participants sought new skills to benefit communities they work with.

“Any time people come together to collaborate, both people in the audience and presenters come away with knowledge,” stated Olivia Renter, an elementary school health aide.


Presenter Mary Fortson-Harwell, PhD, LCSW, kicked off the training with advocacy strategies on mindfulness, self care, and helping youth and families address trauma. Dr. Fortson-Harwell, a behavioral health trainer at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, spoke from her experiences serving families impacted by child welfare,  grief, refugee resettlement, and war.

Laura Stillmunkes, Executive Director of the Sacramento-based Capital Adoptive Families Alliance (CAFA), gave a presentation on compassion fatigue“a state experienced by those helping others in distress…to the degree it can create a secondary traumatic stress for the helper.” Stillmunkes noted that adoptive and foster parents, such as the families she works with at CAFA, often experience compassion fatigue due, in part, to the drive to care for others before themselves.

As an adoptive mom, Stillmunkes offered guidance to help attendees cope with day-to-day stressors of parenting.

“The isolation of parenting kids with special needs can come on suddenly, before you know it,” she stated. “As parents, we have to recognize that we’re not perfect. We yell, we do things we regret…and that is normal. It’s important to be kind to yourself.

In his presentation, Young Minds Advocacy President Patrick Gardner focused on how child-serving systems can act as gatekeepers, rather than pathways, to receiving mental health care — as well as how parents and caregivers can advocate for themselves and their families to access treatment.

Gardner, a mental health advocate of over 30 years, laid out his advice in three steps:

  1. Build a treatment team – including a clinician and any informal supporters, such as coaches, teachers, and mentors – that can work together, nurture a child’s strengths, and help meet their needs;
  2. Get specific, particularly when talking to  medical professionals and clinicians, about the child’s individual strengths and challenges; and
  3. Believe in (and, possibly, work with an advocate to pursue) any entitlement(s), or legal rights, to mental health and related services.

“The more concrete and specific you can get about your child’s needs, the easier it is for you and your child’s treatment team to come together and say ‘yes, this treatment will help,’” said Gardner.

Throughout the training, PC4W partners talked with attendees about difficulties that parents and caregivers face when pursuing mental health treatment for youth.

Finally, PC4W organizations met with Daniel S. Maydeck, President of Haynes Family of Programs, and Michael Schertell, LMFT, Children’s and Recovery Support Services Program Director of San Bernardino’s County Department of Behavioral Health. During these meetings, the PC4W leadership raised concerns from parents and caregivers in the L.A.-area, including: Shortages of culturally responsive services and diverse clinicians; difficulties experienced by families in obtaining respite care; and mental health funding issues impacted by law and policy changes.

More Opportunities to Engage

In 2018, PC4W will host workshops at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and California Mental Health Advocates for Children and Youth (CMHACY) Conferences in Monterey.

Help inform our work by filling out a short survey.

PC4W is collecting insights from parents, caregivers, youth, and agencies from across the state to inform our work over the next year. Please take a few minutes to fill out one of the surveys and share them with your networks.

Parent/Caregiver Survey:

Youth Survey:

Parents and Caregivers for Wellness is funded by the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission (MHSOAC). Enacted in 2004, the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) supports innovative mental health services, mental health treatment, prevention and early intervention, education and training to people of all ages affected by mental illness throughout California. Learn more at

About the Author:

Aisa Villarosa
Aisa Villarosa is an Associate Attorney at Young Minds Advocacy who previously represented children in Michigan’s dependency and juvenile justice systems. A lover of painting and poetry, Aisa strives to use creativity in her advocacy and community engagement around youth mental health.