SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Nearly a century ago, the Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic started as a basic provider of mental health services for youth and communities in South Los Angeles. To this day, it remains the oldest agency of its kind in operation in the western United States.
It was 1924 when the clinic first opened as one of eight other programs across the United States. With financial aid provided by the Commonwealth Fund, the clinic was initiated by the National Committee for Mental Hygiene.
And since that year, its mission has remained simple: “Provide quality mental health services to a community in great need by ensuring easy access and promoting early intervention,” according to its website.
The clinic has grown slowly, Jeremy Sidell, vice president of advancement and external affairs, said. The organization now offers services in 30 schools, has three facilities and two walk-in clinics in Central and South L.A.
Through its services, the clinic aims to help children young people under 25 achieve their educational goals, build and maintain healthy relationships and live emotionally balanced lives.
The clinic’s attempts to help as many people as possible is extensive, as its workers are seen everywhere from schools, client’s homes and health centers to domestic violence shelters, businesses, libraries and community centers.
But it’s the clinic’s Access and Wellness Center that’s at the heart of the services it provides. There, children and families are given free, walk-in mental health screenings by trained advocates who have access to professional therapists if needed.
Designated a trauma-informed organization, the clinic executes informed care for patients who have a history of trauma. After being assessed by staff, clients can take advantage of the practices offered based on their specific needs. They include crisis-oriented recovery services, child-parent psychotherapy, positive parenting, cognitive behavioral interventions for trauma in schools, and many others.
The work they do for trauma victims is absolutely necessary.
“We find a lot of trauma in inner cities and it’s seen in many forms,” Sindell said. “It’s seen as general community violence, violence directly perpetrated on them from families, like in domestic violence situations. Many of them live in homes where their fathers and mothers aren’t in the household … the school-to-prison pipeline, dropouts.”
Many of the victims, Sindell added, are victims of sex and drug trafficking, and these are all things that affect a person’s mental well being.
So the clinic’s staff, with the help of therapists, try to stabilize the victims and get them back on their feet, be it by helping them return to school or by helping them join the workforce.
The clinic’s employment services work particularly hard this time of year to get youth hired, Sindell said, since so many retail stores are hiring for the holiday season. Many of their clients, in addition to having behavioral issues, have a lack of work history or lack transportation to get to jobs.
But when a clinic employee helps young clients work through their traumas and land jobs that they manage to keep, it’s a huge victory.
“Often, this is the first time that an individual has a support system and is shown that someone cares about their success,” Sindell said.
With its extensive services, presence and the more than 4,000 people it helps annually, there’s no doubt that the Los Angeles Child Guidance Clinic cares about the successes and well-being of the Central and South L.A. communities it serves.
CEO and President: Charlene Dimas-Peinado
Years in operation: 93
Number of employees: 230
Annual budget: $20 million
Location: 3031 S. Vermont Ave. Los Angeles, 90007