Interview with Natasha Collins, Marriage and Family Therapist in San Francisco, CA

1.) KP: I’d like to start by discussing your experience working at Seneca Center.  I know Seneca is a leader and innovator in the field of mental health for children and families in Northern California.  Can you talk about what Seneca does, as well as your role there?

Natasha: Seneca Center is a nonprofit organization whose main goal is to provide the highest quality mental health services for youth and their families. These are youth who have really challenging behaviors, as well as pretty significant mental health diagnoses.

Seneca has a wide range of programs; we provide wraparound services to youth and families, seeing them in their home, at schools, and other locations in the community. We have a number of programs that serve juvenile wards of probation.

What drew me to work at Seneca was their high quality of services, as well as their core values – to do whatever it takes to support youth and families, no matter what the challenges.  Seneca is often seen as the last stop for youth who have failed out of a number of different types of placements, whether it’s school, foster homes, or group home placements. Seneca tends to be the last option for these youth who have had a series of difficult experiences. A big part of the mission is to not to give up on these kids, like others have, but to keep working to help them stabilize and eventually lead higher functioning lives.

My current role at Seneca Center is as a supervisor in a program for youth who have mental health diagnoses and are on juvenile probation. It’s been a really exciting program for me because I get to work as part of a collaboration that includes the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, the Alameda County Public defender’s office, as well as Alameda County juvenile probation. I also work closely with Bay Area Legal Aid and the National Center for Youth Law.  So, in addition to working more directly with youth and families, I get to be involved on the policy level through these collaborative efforts to change the way that youth with mental health needs are treated within the juvenile justice system.

Some studies have shown that 65 to 70% of youth held in juvenile detention centers nationwide have a diagnosable mental illness. Every day about 2000 youth are incarcerated simply because mental health services aren’t available in their communities. So it’s really an exciting process, in terms of being part of changing the way youth with mental health needs are treated and responded to in the community.

One of our primary goals is to identify the youth who are currently on probation and have significant mental health needs and link them to mental health services and other community supports.  By doing this, they can stabilize in the community and eventually graduate off probation.  With all of these supports in place, we increase the likelihood that they won’t re-enter the criminal justice system, which is a win-win for all – the youth most importantly, but also the taxpayers and the community in general.

Next Section: 2.) You also provide clinical supervision to other therapists; can you briefly share what it’s been like to do that?

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