WestCoast Children’s Center and Clinic was founded in 1979 by faculty and students of the Wright Institute graduate school to provide therapeutic services to children and to train graduate students in the practice of child therapy. The clinic project arose out of a task force of child health professionals who had met regularly to discuss issues in child mental health, education and social services. The name WestCoast was adopted because it encouraged clients from multiple catchment areas, and the group intended that WestCoast would become a major training and service institution in the field of child and adolescent mental health. The mission was deceptively simple: for staff representing various mental health professions to provide mental health services to promote the healthy development of children and families through therapy, education and advocacy, regardless of family income. The group wanted to honor the client’s ethnic diversity and treat them as fellow workers in a joint effort to help their children.
Soon after opening its doors, the staff became aware that the mission of WCC was not so easy to attain. WestCoast was not collecting fees adequately and, despite all efforts, was not able to pay adequate salaries. The professional staff was getting tired, and the decision to either shut down or restructure was pressing. At this point roles were clarified and re-defined. Within a year, the group was operating under a more institutional management team. While salaries remained low, morale was very high. WestCoast’s reputation and services continued to grow.
The continual desire to deepen our work and provide the highest quality mental health services to our clients propelled us into seeking new methods, new programs, and new grants over the last ten years. Sustaining a small and emerging clinic such as WestCoast with its particular mission and vision is not easy. The staff worked part-time for small salaries, applied for modest grants, and was nourished by a few generous benefactors. Contracts were established with county systems to perform reliable services for children and families in the social services system. What was to become the core of the Clinic’s services began to emerge: consistent short and long term individual, group, and family therapy, grandparents’ support services, school programs, and psychodiagnostic assessment for children and adolescents. The commitment to children and families living in high-risk situations and demonstrating great need became clearer through our work with children in the foster care system. Development as a community of professionals open to continuous learning and growth from each other as well as our clients grew to become the foundation of WestCoast culture.
By the mid 1990s the Clinic began to stretch and grow with regard to the diversity of programs and services that were offered. This included various types of groups for children and adolescents such as social skills groups and foster girls groups, teen-age mom’s groups, mothers in reunification groups, school-based programs in several Berkeley elementary schools, as well as consultation and treatment services provided to Head Start programs. The Grandparents Support Program continued to flourish during these years and became nationally recognized. Two videos were produced on this program, one of which received an award and was shown on public television stations.
The training program also went through a gradual transformation and growth spurt during these years. The training of child therapists had been the centerpiece of the Clinical Training Program broadened to two years: the first year to focus on child treatment and the second on family therapy. Further the two-year program afforded more in-depth training in psychodiagnostic assessment. The greater benefit, however, was for the clients. They were able to see their intern therapists for at least two years, if not more.
Through the growth of the 1990s, WestCoast continued to operate on a budget that changed very little from the early 80s, a challenge to both administrative and clinical staff. With the support of the WestCoast Board, the administrative staff worked hard to keep WestCoast open in a time when it seemed like a good idea to consider alternatives as we were facing continuing obstacles keeping pace with the rising costs of running a clinic in the Bay Area. Despite these difficult times, the clinical work continued to deepen. This was best exemplified by the work at Marcus Foster Elementary School in Oakland where the clinical team was able to successfully implement our school program dream: comprehensive mental health services integrated into the entire school, impacting every child in every classroom, and collaborating with every teacher, staff member and administrator.
2003 marked the beginning of an enormous growth spurt for WestCoast. It began with a proposal to The California Endowment that resulted in the Foster Youth Development Program or FYDP. FYDP is a collaborative program between WestCoast, Holy Names University, and Bay Area Youth Centers to assist foster youth with emancipation from foster care through intensive mental health services and life preparedness. In March of that year WCC was awarded four program contracts in Alameda county which enabled clinicians to work more comprehensively with foster children, youth and families. As a result of these contracts, clinicians are able to work more closely and directly with teachers, other professionals, foster parents and social workers, biological parents and families. This has resulted in better participation and more engagement by the clients and their families in the treatment.
As partners in leadership, the administrative team and staff have worked hard to honor our history while aspiring to continue to evolve as a relevant community psychology clinic. This investment is beginning to take form and grow exponentially, as exemplified by the requests for our services in the Oakland and Berkeley Unified School Districts, the need for Therapeutic-Collaborative assessments for foster children living in other mental health agencies, and a new Screening, Stabilization and Transition Program that assesses foster children in their first days of entering and living in foster care. Previously, traumatized foster children just removed from their families would often go unseen or unassessed by any mental health professional. In these and many other ways WestCoast Children’s Clinic has continued to live out its mission of service and advocacy to our clients and of training mental health professionals for the next generation.
Our Predoctoral Psychology Internship Training Program received accreditation by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2010 (retroactive to June 2009).
Over the past 25 years, WestCoast has trained over 200 therapist interns, and provided an estimated 450,000 hours of therapy and assessment services to more than 8,000 children and families. While these numbers are impressive, they underestimate and dilute the daily sacrifices, numerous selfless acts, heartfelt gifts, genuine connections, and deep commitments that our staff has made over these 25 years.