Sonoma County’s group homes for kids adapting to state changes

The Valley of the Moon Children's Home, an emergency shelter for children removed from their homes because of abuse or neglect, is poised for a major transition that would dramatically reduce the number of days youths could be housed there.

The change will limit stays to 10 days and require the shelter to respond more quickly and appropriately to a child's trauma, with an emphasis on promoting physical, psychological and emotional safety. Each one of the shelter's 93-member staff, from cooks to counseling staff to supervisors, has been undergoing extensive training since November and will continue through June, said Leslie Winters, the children's center section manager.

“Our goal is to create a safe haven-like environment,” Winters said. “We want to make sure that everything we're doing is to create safety and really to assess the youth to be able to stabilize them, create calmness for them.”

After that, she said, the goal would be to find permanent family placement as soon as possible.

The changes at Valley of the Moon are in response to California's current overhaul of the foster care system launched Jan. 1. The overhaul, known as the Continuum of Care Reform, or CCR, is aimed at dramatically scaling back group home placements while increasing the use of home-based family care.

An emergency shelter such as the Valley of the Moon, designed to care for youth for up to 30 days or until a foster family or other placement is arranged, is required to convert to a 10-day Temporary Shelter Care Facility. Valley of the Moon Children's Home, the county's only emergency shelter, is classified as a group home and subject to the new requirements under CCR. It's one of seven group homes in Sonoma County.

That change is putting a tremendous strain on the local foster care system, which must now recruit significantly more families to provide stable, permanent homes for troubled kids.

The product of four years of planning by state officials and county welfare directors, CCR is guided by the principle that the best placement for a child who has been removed from his or her family is another family. To recruit more families the county Family, Youth and Children's Division and local foster care and adoption agencies such as TLC Child, Alternative Family Services and Lilliput Families, are working together in a state-funded partnership called the Family Finding Collaboration.

Nick Honey, director of the county's Family, Youth and Children's Services, said group homes like Valley of the Moon are trying to make it “the best 10-day shelter in the state...we're changing our mindset on how we work with children at Valley of the Moon.” To achieve that goal, the county brought in consultants last spring from the International Trauma Center, a Boston-based group led by Dr. Robert Macy, an expert in “trauma informed care” treatment.

The approach acknowledges a child's traumatic experiences, “basically changing the way you look at a youth,” said Honey. “It's not what's wrong with you, it's what's happened to you...we're building a relationship quickly in a different way.” Joan McDonald, a residential care counselor and shift supervisor at Valley of the Moon, said trauma informed care is an approach she and other colleagues at the center have been using for some time. McDonald, who has worked at Valley of the Moon for 11 years and with at-risk youth for 22 years, said the difference is the center applying the concept to all facets of the group home.

“Different aspects of the organization are getting the same training. We're all on the same page, getting the same training,” she said. “Our goal is common and we're speaking the same language.”

McDonald said becoming a 10-day facility will be a challenge but she's confident she and other Valley of the Moon staff can make it work.

“If this is what's being asked, let's do it the best that we can do,” she said. “It's not like we're starting all over, we're just going to get quick at it.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or On Twitter @renofish.

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