History of the Family Movement and United Advocates for Children and Families
During the last several decades, family members have gained progressively more central roles in their children’s mental health care. In the past, the child was viewed as a patient, a passive recipient of professional treatment, and the family had no role beyond observing and supporting the service system. Later, the role of families increased, as they became participants in the planning and delivery of services for their children. However, in recent years, families have been recognized as full partners in their children’s care.
During the 1970s and 1980s the family movement in children’s mental health began to take its current shape. In 1969, the National Institute of Mental Health sponsored a Joint Commission on the Mental Health of Children. The Commission’s findings were that children with serious emotional disturbances did not generally receive effective mental health services (1). At this time the federal government began concerted efforts to ensure that mental health services for children responded to the needs of children and their families. In 1982, a landmark book published in the field of children’s mental health, Unclaimed Children, by Jane Knitzer (2) explained the need for developing services that integrated families as partners in their children’s care. To that end, Congress appropriated funds for a new children’s mental health initiative in 1984, the Child and Adolescent Service System Program (CASSP), and a number of state and local family-run organizations emerged or were strengthened through this program. The system of care movement, also initiated in the mid-80s, dovetailed in many of its values and strategies with the family movement.
Whereas the 1980s was a period of development, the 1990s was a decade in which dramatic expansion of the family organization movement took place. It was at this time that United Advocates for Children and Families (UACF) (formerly the United Advocates for Children of California – UACC) was birthed from the family movement. The organization was incorporated in 1992. The core mission of UACF has remained the same since its incorporation, that being to improve the quality of life for all children and youth with mental, emotional, and behavioral challenges and to eliminate institutional discrimination and social stigma. UACF has grown significantly from its start-up period when the organization consisted of a 10 person Board of Directors comprised of very strong family advocates interested in building values-driven, children’s mental health systems in California. In 1998, the organization garnered resources for staff. In 2000, they hired an Executive Director who worked to improve the organization’s legislative advocacy strategies as well as their training products. They were awarded a national contract in 2001 to create the UACF Statewide Family Network Technical Assistance Center (TA Center). The TA Center provided training and technical assistance to 43 other statewide family organizations that are funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). UACF’s national contract was completed in October 2009.
In August of 2006, the current Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Oscar Wright, was hired. Dr. Wright’s vast insights into mental health services delivery, public policy, public relations, and community engagement are central to the success of our campaigns, which reach affected families all across the State of California.
UACF currently operates two programs to meet its mission: a direct service program in various California counties, and a statewide advocacy and training program. The organization also has a culturally and racially diverse staff including family members with lived experience. With the passing of the Mental Health Services Act (Proposition 63), UACF’s present and primary goal is to assist independent family organizations at the county level to identify their missions, incorporate, and build intentional and effective strategies to transform the California mental health service delivery system for children.
1. National Institute of Mental Health (1969). Crisis in child mental health: Challenge for the 70's. Report of the Joint Commission on Mental Health of Children. Bethesda, MD
2. Knitzer, Jane (1982). Unclaimed children: The failure of public responsibility to children and adolescents in need of mental health services. Children's Defense Fund, Washington, D.C.