President & CEO Blog

Happy Holidays & Thank You for Your Support

By Moisés Barón, Ph.D.Artwork by SDCC Academy Student

For most of us, the holidays are a time we associate with joy, family, friends and traditions. It marks a time to reconnect, share a festive meal and give thanks.

However, as we approach this meaningful season I am reminded that for too many of the children, parents and foster families we serve, the holidays have a much different meaning. For some, the holidays bring back reminders of trauma or abuse.  For others, the lack of consistency or resources can make this holiday season a time of stress and uncertainty.

As we prepare to enter this season, I want to express on behalf of all of us here at the Center, our sense of gratitude to you, our community, for the many ways in which you help us bring hope and healing to those in need. Together, and with your generosity, today we are able to help even more families re-experience the sense of meaning that this holiday season evokes.

Thank you for your ongoing partnership and support. We sincerely hope that you experience in full the joy and significance of Thanksgiving this year.

All Children Deserve to Learn…

By Moisés Barón, Ph.D.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) is federal law that guarantees a series of basic educational rights to children with disabilities:

  • A free and appropriate education to their needs at no cost to their families
  • In the Least Restrictive Environment possible
  • With the necessary support services to assist them in benefiting educationally
  • Based on a comprehensive assessment to determine the child’s unique needs in order to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP)

We at the San Diego Center for Children play an important role in providing families of children with mental, emotional and behavioral disorders, whose ability to learn is being impacted by their conditions, with options to ensure that their children thrive to achieve their highest potential. Each school year, over 200 students from over 20 school districts have their needs met through our Academy and 2 school-based programs.Academy Students

The SDCC Academy is a nonpublic school, accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). We specialize in providing educational services for students with needs so exceptional that they cannot be appropriately met in their public school setting. Our interdisciplinary team meets the individualized educational and behavioral needs of close to 100 students every day by coordinating from a wealth of robust resources including:

  • Intensive reading and math improvement programs
  • Positive behavior interventions, occupational and speech therapy
  • Individual and family counseling
  • Music and arts, sports and recreation
  • Anti-Bullying, PeaceBuilders and Restorative Practices

Our success is measured when our students graduate with a diploma or also when they are able to return to their home schools with a sense that they belong, can learn and contemplate a bright future. We are proud to report that over the past 8 years we have achieved a 97% success rate of graduates who received a high school diploma.

Every day on our 9-acre main campus in Kearny Mesa, one can personally witness the success of our approach by seeing our students learn, thrive and experience the joy of being a child. To learn more about our Academy and our exceptional team, I encourage you to visit our webpage, watch the story of one of our students or perhaps contact us for a tour of our campus by calling (858) 277-9550.

In an effort to enhance learning opportunities for children in North County and the South Bay, we have also established partnerships with school districts in those areas. They include our school-based therapeutic services provided at North County Academy and LifeSchool.
(Read the San Diego Union-Tribune article about LifeSchool)

Our school-based therapeutic programs involve school staff and Center staff working together, side by side, to create a seamless blend of academic and therapeutic interventions to meet the individual needs of children whose ability to achieve their true learning potential is impacted by mental, emotional and/or behavioral challenges.  Every day, our educational programs throughout the County allow youth with special needs to experience the joy of belonging, the satisfaction of academic achievement and the wonderment of learning.

Creating Successful Transitions for Foster & Transition Age Youth

By Moisés Barón, Ph.D.

While reaching 18 years of age is commonly thought as the time when an individual becomes an adult, for many, if not most youth with special needs, the need for structured support and guidance does not end as they reach this milestone.

The data is clear: foster youth and emerging adults with mental, emotional and behavioral disorders experience poor educational and employment outcomes.   Fragmented services and limited access across adult programs and systems of care further complicate transition for this population and their families.

The San Diego Center for Children recognizes that in order to create change and accomplish more impactful outcomes, a new approach to transition is required – and so our Successful Transitions program was developed.  Our approach is all encompassing, holistic and involves:Successful Transitions for Foster & Transition Age Youth

  • A new paradigm that identifies all relevant dimensions in need and support (e.g. education, employment, housing, health and mental health, access to services)
  • A comprehensive assessment of the youth’s needs, core competencies and supports
  • Developing an individualized, youth-centered Transition Action Plan, driven by the youth themselves in coordination with family and other relevant resources, with clear goals in the areas of education, career and housing
  • Identifying the resources necessary for the youth to succeed, as well as access to the guidance and coaching needed to implement the plan
  • Involvement in an Independent Living Skills curriculum (e.g. how to create a budget, interview for a job, work readiness, secure housing, or advocate for his/her needs)
  • Access to an electronic database of transition resources
  • Partnerships with adult services to facilitate smooth transitions and enhance access to needed supports

We are diligently working on developing all of these components and have piloted this new, and now copyrighted methodology, with more than 60 youth across our programs.  Our vision is that every transition age youth (TAY) who is served by the Center will exit our services with the hope, tools, and support they need to thrive into adulthood.

How can you help:

It’s truly time that as a community we recognize the need to rally together to create the integrated processes, systems and holistic methodology to help all youth succeed.  An investment in these efforts to benefit San Diego’s most vulnerable youth will reap great benefits, not only for the families at the Center, but also to our community at large.

Summer is here…

By Moisés Barón, Ph.D.

For most families, summer is a time to unwind, take a break, travel and have fun. For many kids, summer is associated with laughter, playing, summer camp and “no homework”. Summer is one of those times in the year where we can all associate with the Joys of Childhood.

There aSummer Activitiesre however many families for which summer means something different. Mental, emotional and behavioral disorders do not take a break. For many families with a child with special needs, summer time often poses a challenge. The structure and support services provided by school are not available, the choices to find summer programs that will provide an engaging and enriching environment for their child may be limited, and yet the need for services and treatment still persists.

We at the San Diego Center for Children understand these challenges and are committed to be responsive to the needs of the children and families we serve. During the summer, we continue providing a range of services:

  • Our WASC accredited nonpublic K-12 school, the Academy, has an Extended School Year program through the month of July into early August. Close to 95 students from all over the County are currently benefiting from this program that provides personalized instruction in a small classroom setting by special education teachers.
  • Our residential programs are implementing a number of summer activities to ensure that the youth under our care can experience the “Summer Joys of Childhood” while not in school. These activities include recreation, community engagement, culinary classes, beach days and more.
  • Our new Family Wellness Center is expanding the range of services it provides by offering a number of summer sport and play camps for children with special needs led by our professional staff.
  • And of course, our staff continues to serve the needs of more than 1,000 children and adults throughout the County, every day.

To learn more about how to access our services, please visit the new web page of our Family Wellness Center. You will find all the information needed to receive resources for your family or to share them with a family you know who is in need of support.

Let’s make sure that this summer brings a smile to every child in our community no matter what his needs or what her challenges may be.

Many Successes to Celebrate

By Moisés Barón, Ph.D.Photo Credit: Vincent Andrunas

June has been a remarkable month for the Center. On Thursday, June 2, more than 300 guests joined us for our 129th Anniversary Gala Celebration – it was a great success! As a community, we all had the opportunity to partake in one of the cornerstone components of the Center’s music program, “Blues Thursday”. For the first time, “Blues Thursday” went “on the road” and the youth we serve lifted the audience with meaningful and courageous performances  (view pictures).

That night we also had an opportunity to get a closer look at the skill, the passion and the commitment it takes to truly help children with mental, emotional and behavioral challenges (watch Karalina’s Story), and to honor Susie Sides and Jim Avery with the 2016 PATH Award as Partners in Achieving Transformation and Hope.

On June 6, a surprising and wonderful partnership was announced. Locally headquartered Sullivan Solar Power selected the Center as its charitable partner for 2016! The company will not only be donating a solar power installation on our main campus in Kearny Mesa, but will Sullivan Solar Power also be contributing $500 for every installation they complete between now and the end of the year. The savings from solar and the donations will help the Center further its mission and support a brighter future for San Diego (View commercial currently airing on NBC 7 San Diego).

And on June 13, close to 200 students and guests participated in our Academy school’s 19th Annual Student Promotion Graduation & Award Ceremony (view pictures). As is now a tradition, all of our high school graduates earned a diploma and are now Student Promotion Graduation & Award Ceremonystarting new chapters in their young lives with hope in their future… a future that, at one time, may have looked frightening, if not bleak. This is the reason why we exist, whether it is a foster child impacted by trauma, an adolescent struggling with anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts, a young man on the autism spectrum, a family dealing with divorce and loss, or a child with a behavior problem, we are here to help create brighter futures.

June was indeed a good month. With support and celebrations like these, we are inspired to continue our efforts to build for our community, throughout the County, a cohesive continuum of therapeutic and educational services to appropriately respond to the diverse needs of the more than 1,500 children and families seeking our help every year.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

By Moisés Barón, Ph.D.

When we consider that 1 in 5 Americans will be affected by a mental health condition in their lifetime, and that every household in our community is impacted through their friends May is Mental Health Awareness Monthand family, the time has come…

…to end the stigma of mental health
…to make sure that no one suffers in silence
…to ensure that all children and families in need of help have access to the appropriate level of care and find hope.

It’s time to pause and become more informed on how mental and behavioral health disorders can manifest themselves. It’s time to rally together as a community to educate and inform, and to spread the word about mental health.

Mental health should not be less important than physical health. Mental health impacts the way we live our lives, from our daily activities to our relationships and behaviors.

You Can be Part of the Solution!
• This month make time to learn more about mental and behavioral health
• Become aware of the indicators that point to the possibility of a behavioral health disorder in children and youth
• Recognize that early intervention is a key to recovery and healing
• Listen, support, and be an advocate
Volunteer at the Center 

In honor of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, I encourage you to visit the resources we have available on our website to raise awareness and help families find the help they may need.

Let’s take this opportunity now to replace stigma with healing, barriers with opportunity and suffering with hope!

Let me tell you a story…

san diego center for children

We all have a story to tell. And if we don’t listen, teens like Melinda* would never have gotten the opportunity to reach their full potential.

By Moisés Barón, Ph.D.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. It’s a time to pause and become more informed on how mental and behavioral health disorders can manifest themselves. It’s a time to rally together as a community to educate and inform. And the first step to building an understanding about the impact of mental health issues involves talking openly and taking action.

Here at the San Diego Center for Children, that is exactly what we do. You may have read in our recent email newsletter about 10 year old Nick*. He came to the Center dealing with some significant family changes that left him confused, hurt, and as result, getting into a lot trouble at school. He was at a risk of failing. Fortunately, through early identification and the realization that he needed help, Nick and his family were able to get the therapy and support he needed to return to school confident and secure.

You Made This Possible

Through early identification and intervention, Nick* has returned to school confident and secure. The completion of his therapy with us was celebrated by the much anticipated “Ringing of the Bell”.

And then there is the story of Melinda*. Daily panic attacks, alcohol abuse, self-inflicted injuries, depression and even contemplation of suicide, while trying to cope with bipolar disorder. Things looked so hopeless that Melinda was convinced that she “was going to die before 18.” She dropped out of several schools, and even refused to attend San Diego Center for Children when she initially got accepted into the program. But we kept communication open. And eventually, with the help of her teacher and therapist, she started to open up. With time and hard work, Melinda started to realize that “there are good adults that won’t hurt you.” She went on to flourish in school, and by the end of her first year at the Academy, she received the school-wide award for academic excellence.

And finally, you may have heard the incredibly inspirational story of Matt Savage, jazz phenom, pianist and composer. As a young child he could not tolerate music or sound in general and was diagnosed with a Disorder in the Autism Spectrum.

Fortunately, his parents sought out the critical support and therapy needed early on — not to change him, but to identify and support his unique talents and abilities. At age 6 ½, Matt received help that drastically reduced his sensitivity to sound and he soon immersed himself in all things musical. His abilities flourished, he went on to connect with some of the biggest names in jazz, and today, has created 11 albums! We are delighted that he will be performing at our upcoming 128th Anniversary Celebration on Thursday, May 28, 2015.

Matt Savage

The story of jazz phenom Matt Savage is a wonderful example of the importance of early detection + getting kids the help they need early on, so they can reach their full potential.

Please join me, our Board and the rest of the San Diego Center for Children staff at this very special event. It will truly be a night to inspire and reflect on ways we, as a community, can help all kids and teens reach their full potential.

Finally, in honor of this Mental Health Awareness Month, I encourage you to keep talking and learning about mental health. Together, by listening and openly sharing, we can change the conversation about mental health.


*Names have been changed to protect privacy


It’s a Matter of Time

By Moisés Barón, Ph.D.

behavioral health problems in kids

In behavioral health, the symptoms of a problem are the behaviors.

As we get settled into this New Year, I’m reminded of the “New Beginnings” created for so many who are finding the support + help they need here at San Diego Center for Children. As I hear about the struggles of the children and teens that come to our care, and I see how they can flourish with the right help, I can’t help but become more aware of the importance of timing.

So, what is my “New Year’s Advice” for any parent, caregiver, teacher – or other influencer in a child’s life?

Trust yourself. Listen to your instincts. You know your children, and if you are concerned with your child or teen’s behavior in social, family or educational settings, it is critical to seek out the right help and support without delay.

We know that awareness, early identification and the appropriate treatment and support can truly create New Beginnings for those struggling with mental, emotional or behavioral disorders. But so many parents, when faced with such issues, don’t know what to do, or who to turn to for help.  That’s why, one of our primary goals for 2015 is to help parents (and other caretakers) recognize the signs and empower them to find the help their child needs.

mental illness in teens

Half of all lifetime cases of diagnosable mental illness began by the age of 14

In fact, as a community, it’s important for all of us to recognize mental, emotional and behavioral disorders early on. Such disorders are a public health concern for several reasons. For one, the individual is not the only one suffering. The stress and confusion of how to handle the behaviors puts strain on families and those around them as well. When left untreated, emotional and behavioral disorders also limit ability for children to reach full potential in social and educational achievement, which creates an overall suboptimal functioning throughout life.

And beyond the loss of quality of life, these factors also impose heavy costs on society. The actual costs to communities are usually hidden because instead of taking place in mental health settings they manifest themselves in other systems of care such as education, health care, child- welfare and/or the justice system.  Some estimates suggest the annual, nation-wide costs are as high as $247 billion. But the possible savings that prevention and early detection can provide are significant. Some estimates relay that $1 spent on prevention could save $7 in costs associated with trying to solve the problem later.

Delay on getting kids the help they need early on not only hurts the child and the family but our community as a whole. That’s why all of us here at the Center are so passionate about the opening of our Family Wellness Center this April. You will be hearing more about the special services offered in the upcoming months. It’s a great first step for families struggling with a child or adolescent with emotional or behavioral disorders to get help, and a critical service needed for so many families in need of guidance and support.

cost of mental illness

Help us Change the Holiday Experience for San Diego’s at-risk Kids + Families

Holiday Wish List

Many of the children in our Residential program had never made a Wish List before.

By Moisés Barón, Ph.D.

For most of us, the holidays are a time we associate with joy. It marks a precious time to reconnect with friends and family. Share a festive meal and holiday cheer. But for many of the children, parents  and foster families we serve, the holidays have a much different meaning. For many, the holidays bring back reminders of trauma or abuse. For others, there’s a lack of consistency making the holiday season a time of stress and uncertainty. And in some case, families simply aren’t able to celebrate the holidays together, whether that’s due to financial or behavioral health issues that keep them apart this time of year.

Our holiday Wish List program is designed to give these kids and their families a joyous holiday experience.  And this new experience can only happen when we work together.  When we, as a community come together to bring hope and support to at-risk children + families, it means much more than a new toy or a gift card. It shows them that San Diego does care and is committed to their well-being.

Many of the children in our Residential Treatment Program had never made a Wish List before. In fact, they had never even thought about making one because no one had ever asked them too. And even after they did make their lists, many of the items they wished for are basic: new clothes, a soccer ball, a favorite book.  Many of the things most kids take for granted.  I hope you’ll consider Adopting a Child’s Wish List this holiday.

This year, we’ve decided to expand the idea of the child’s Wish List to include some of the families in need we serve throughout the County.  Here, you’ll find easy ways to donate grocery gift cards and other basic necessities to help them celebrate the holidays.

san diego center for children

Many of the items on the children’s Wish Lists are basic: new clothes, a soccer ball, a favorite book.

We’ve also partnered with Amazon Smile so that a portion of your purchase from our Wish Lists will come back as donations to the Center!

Finally, I hope you and your family will join us Thursday, December 18 for our 2nd Annual Holiday FUNDrive. This event is open to the public and a time to drop off any donations, but most of all, it’s a time to celebrate this magical time of year, and with your help, bring joy to children at the Center!

Wishing everyone a happy and healthy holiday season spending time with the ones you love.

Let’s Work Together to Give More Families Access to a Continuum of Mental Health Services

mental health services for families

It should be our goal to make it clear and easy for all families in need to find mental health services that fit their child’s unique needs.

By Moisés Barón, Ph.D.

I have to be honest. It was not easy for me to leave my job at USD. I truly loved it there – the university, the students, the work I was doing with my team developing multidisciplinary and innovative programs to help and support students.

I told my wife, “If I’m ever to leave USD, it had to be for a nonprofit. And I’d have to be doing something truly meaningful for our community.”

Just a few weeks after I uttered these words, I learned about the CEO position available at San Diego Center for Children. As I went through the interview process, I mentally checked off all the items that fit within my career and life goals. Taking on a position that allowed for growth, check! Helping turn a distinguished nonprofit into a community leader in mental health– check! Working with an organization that provided an impressive array of behavioral health services– check! And of course, the opportunity to work with a passionate team with a commitment to best practices – and check! I was meant to do this!

San Diego Center for Children Staff

This accredited organization, is made up of a staff who strive for excellence with the ability to not only identify best practices but to effectively implement them to make a real impact in the lives of the children and families we serve.

And 60 days later here I am. As I look out my new office window, overlooking the residential cottages here at San Diego Center for Children, I am filled with such great appreciation for the professionalism and level of care and commitment of this staff. This accredited organization, is made up of a staff who strive for excellence with the ability to not only identify best practices but to effectively implement them to make a real impact in the lives of the children and families we serve.

There is no doubt that a solid foundation has been laid over the last 127 years. But despite staff passion, great work and long history, most of our community is still not familiar with who we are and what we do. In fact, when I told my friends and colleagues I was leaving my job of 17 years at USD to become the CEO of San Diego Center for Children, I was surprised at how many long-time San Diegans had never heard of the nonprofit or the services available to the community.

This is something we need to work on. To help at-risk kids in our community we need families to learn about the services we offer and we need a community that rallies around these efforts to provide much necessary support. So, our challenge for the future is to make the San Diego Center for Children a household name so that we can support and empower more families who are caring for a child with behavioral health problems.

helping san diego kids

Let’s work together to support and empower more families who are caring for a child with behavioral health problems.

It should be our goal to make it clear and easy for all families in need to find mental health services that fit their child’s unique needs. We will continue to work on creating a comprehensive continuum of care that also partners with other community organizations that offer complementary services. Through strategic collaboration, we can help spread awareness of services available and the important role mental health plays in a child’s life.

As we head into the last few months of 2014, I look forward to continuing to get to know my staff (at all 8 SDCC locations throughout the County) as well as current and potential community partners. Together, let’s create more pathways for more children and families to reach better health, improved relationships and greater quality of life.