The emotional upheaval faced by two young children whose parents went through a painful divorce was becoming almost unbearable, leading to challenging behaviors and falling behind at school. The daughter would lash out in anger that would seemingly arise from nowhere. The son, wanting to get things ‘right,’ would apologize profusely, stuttering to find the words to communicate when he made a mistake.

That’s when their 35-year-old father reached out for help from Episcopal Community Services’ free Para Las Familias early childhood behavioral and mental health clinic.

Supporting Young Children

The transformation could not have been more pronounced.

“Today,” said the father, “my daughter can express herself in healthy ways. In fact, her teacher has said that she is a model student for behavior in the classroom. My son is performing above grade level. He also happens to be the most popular kid at school. I believe it is because he demonstrates acceptance, kindness, and compassion wherever he goes.”

Indeed, thanks to critical grant funding from San Diego Foundation and others,  Episcopal Community Services is building our future. Para Las Families is a key reason why.

About the Clinic

Para Las Familias, an early childhood behavioral and mental health clinic, specializes in providing a range of free bilingual, early childhood mental health services in the underserved South Bay communities of San Diego County – an area where more than 40% of families live in economic hardship.

Bilingual therapists provide screening, assessment, family and group therapy, school observation, and teacher/provider consultation at Para Las Familias, the child’s home, or in their classroom. In addition, the center also provides adult mental health services and weekly parenting groups. The goal is to support children so they can thrive at home and in school.

“Our caring and compassionate Para Las Familias behavioral health professionals partner with caregivers and teachers to provide the support children need to enjoy equitable access to educational opportunities,” shared Elizabeth Fitzsimons, CEO of Episcopal Community Services. “Para Las Familias ensures a preschool-to-college pipeline, providing trauma-informed and attachment-based behavioral health services to help children build crucial social-emotional skills and remain in school.”

Supporting Familias

Ongoing funding from San Diego Foundation has supported Episcopal Community Services, including the Para Las Familias program, and increased services for families.

Two San Diego Foundation Early Childhood Initiative (ECI) grants awarded in 2020 during the height of the pandemic supported innovative expansions at Para Las Familias. A $25,000 ECI Responsive grant allowed Para Las Familias to transition from face-to-face sessions to telehealth, expanding access for children, parents, and providers. A $150,000 ECI Resilience grant helped to launch the program’s new evidence-based parent groups focused on parent-child attachment.

That same year, a $135,000 San Diego County COVID-19 Community Response Fund grant to Episcopal Community Services further expanded access and provided meals for students and families involved in its Head Start and Early Head Start programs.

Building on this past support and recognizing the connection between access to supportive services and educational readiness, SDF awarded Para Las Familias an Early Childhood Initiative Equitable Opportunities grant of $70,000 in 2022 in partnership with the Dr. Seuss Foundation. This grant will continue to expand access to free bilingual therapy for low-income, high-potential children up to 5 years old and their caregivers in San Diego County’s south region during the school year. Over 250 young children will receive therapeutic services this year to overcome behavioral challenges, adjust to preschool or daycare, and ultimately, remain in school.

In the words of the father of the young children supported through Para Las Families, “(Before) I felt powerless, (and now) equipped with the necessary strategies, I have been able to support my children. The empowerment and structured opportunities to strengthen my relationships with my children are among the many things I am grateful for.”

San Diego Foundation’s Early Childhood Initiative supports families with young children, ages 0 – 5, throughout San Diego County by expanding equitable access to high-quality, affordable early education and care.

Learn more about how San Diego Foundation supports local children and families.