The Guidance Center has been awarded a $1,578,807 grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to enhance trauma-informed care services for vulnerable and under-represented youth and mental health staff in response to the COVID19 global pandemic.


At The Guidance Center, our mission since 1946 has been to provide comprehensive mental health treatment to disadvantaged children and families who are struggling with mental illness and abuse. We’ve had the honor of supporting countless children and members of their families through their mental health journeys for the past 75 years. This support became especially important this past year and a half as our community and the world navigated the unchartered waters of the COVID19 pandemic.


Recognizing that the mental health needs of our clients were exacerbated during the pandemic, this competitive and prestigious grant award will help The Guidance Center increase accessibility to syndemic informed, high-quality mental health services. It also will provide support necessary to our clinicians to overcome challenges of their own burn out and secondary trauma.


While The Guidance Center already provides outpatient and trauma-informed in-person and telehealth services to children and adolescents, several major barriers still remain. These include internet and technology access for clients in their homes; privacy and confidentiality of sessions in crowded homes; adequate space in schools and agency buildings to allow for physical distancing; and access to necessary therapy supplies (e.g., art materials, dolls, puppets).


We know from anecdotal data that unmet needs and gaps were significant last year. Families being served at our agency did not and still do not have appropriate devices for telehealth services and even if they have school-issued Chromebooks, those devices are restricted from accessing Zoom. Additionally, families share that there is no privacy and confidentiality in crowded multi-generational homes. Whereas our youth were able to discuss their depression, anxiety, and family life when in person, conversations now are vaguer and increase our inability to accurately assess for suicidal ideation or abuse. Due to internet deserts, therapy sessions are inconsistent with screens freezing or shutting down altogether. Oftentimes, multiple children in a family have sessions at the same time, but there is only one phone to use for sessions. Even with schools re-opened, the spaces that are available to us are not large enough for two people or equipped with technology to allow for telehealth.


With this award, the agency plans to strengthen and sustain the infrastructure necessary to provide synchronous audio-visual HIPAA compliant telehealth. We plan to provide wi-fi access in all three clinic buildings and establish portable telehealth stations at each of the 75 schools with whom we have partnerships, including schools on the remote island of Avalon as well as in the therapy sign-up rooms in our physical buildings. This will allow clients to have adequate therapy supplies, internet access, and privacy for telehealth sessions while their providers may be working remotely. Additionally, therapists will be able to provide services to students in different schools that may be difficult to reach by car.


“The funds from this grant allow us to make a systemic, sustainable impact on helping not only our clients, but also staff, deal with the effects of the pandemic, racial trauma, and stigma of mental health treatment,” says Dawn Vo-Jutabha, PhD, Chief Clinical Officer of The Guidance Center.


The grant award will also help The Guidance Center develop and provide the resources to address the mental health needs of our clinical therapists, supervisors, and managers. We will train all clinical staff in the Components for Enhancing Clinician Engagement and Response to Trauma (CE-CERT) practice model and supervision approach to reducing compassion fatigue in clinicians. In addition, we will train two in-house trainers in the approach in order to maintain fidelity and sustain the program.


“I am so proud that The Guidance Center is the recipient of this important award,” says Patricia Costales, LCSW, CEO of The Guidance Center. “We will use it to better serve the vulnerable children who need our assistance, increasing our accessibility and ability to reach them where they need us the most.”