Family LIfe Center

Posted by on July 4, 2013 in Treatment Centers, Treatment Options | 0 comments

In this blog Jon Foye, Director of Admissions at Family Life Center in Petaluma, California describes the program. If you want to contact Jon directly, call 707 795-6954 or email

What one line statement best describes Family Life Center?

At Family Life Center, we minimize the sense of being an institution and maximize the sense of creating culture and community.

What are the programs greatest strengths?

We offer a relationship model with highly structured involvement and consistency. We take time to train adults weekly.

How many residents do you have?

We have 30 boys and 26 girls. We work with Alameda Unified School District, San Ramon, Antioch, Oakland, and Berkeley. Our kids range in age from 13-18. Kids average stay is about 1½ year.  The typical age is 15-16

How does the admissions process work?

We only accept about 70% of the students who are referred. We assess carefully to make sure the child will be successful here. We have really high expectations for kids around being able to bond in relationship and having some level of empathy and compassion.When assessing a kid to determine if they are appropriate, we look at children’s processing ability because the program is very process oriented. We’re so verbal. All the other students are practicing this with others.

Do you take kids with RAD Radical attachment disorder?

 Yes, if they can bond with people.

What treatment approach do you use?

There’s a lot of structure. It’s very emotionally intense. We work with kids to emotionally problem solve. Instead of talking about the emotions we get them to experience their emotions. A lot of them are ‘white knuckling” not experiencing their feelings. Then they take it out on others, or themselves.We help kids understand how their emotions affect their thinking and how that affects them physically. We encourage kids to think proactively to deal with feelings before they escalate.We have an eclectic approach; it’s emotionally driven. EMDR, CBT, DBT. With girls there’s a lot of PTSD and trauma.  We emphasize relationships rather than a behavioral approach although there is a point system with rewards for completing tasks.Kids learn about making decisions from Core Values and what that means. We are more structured than most programs.  We try to create an emotional and physically safe environment. One of the ways we do that is through consistency, awareness and predictability. This helps the kid internalize the structure. Residents are expected to wake up on time, and have all their hygiene done. Our kids are more organized when they go out into the community with a job.

How is your program structured

Our program is comprised of five phases.  We focus on the individual first; no family therapy until phase three about 4-5 months down the line. After that, the teen has the tools of insight and investment rather than pointing the finger and blaming. The parents are in contact with the family therapist once a week.Phases 1 and 2 are more restrictive with one family call a week. Later phases family can call once a day. Stage four and five they start working, going to school, and or volunteering.

What does a typical day look like?

Wake up at 7:00 am. Be in bed by 10 pm.


7-8 Shower time, clean up, eat breakfast

8-9 Work on grounds

9-1 School

1-1:45 lunch

2-3 PE

5:30 Break

Dinner, Homework, Bed

Weekends: if they earn a certain number of points they can go to the movies

How much therapy do you offer?

Group Monday, Thursday Friday Group in the afternoon

Individual therapy once a week.

Wednesday kids go on hike

We do 10 day back pack trips to Emigrant Basin, and cross country ski in the winter

What percentage of  your residents come from probation, school districts, etc?

Four years ago, 99% of the kids that we had were referred from school districts,  SELPA kids. Right now, probably 30% of our kids come from probation, 30% AAP (Aid to Adoption), 30% SELPA (Special Education Local Plan Area)

A lot of the probation kids we are getting now would have gotten services through schools in the past. Now the parents are running out of resources and calling the police. Then probation gets involved. We’re seeing a lot more mental health type kids in juvenile hall.  The vast majority of kids coming through probation have mental health issues

Could you explain more about how SELPA works?

What happened with SELPA 3-4 years ago is that Schwarzenegger blue-lined everything.  SELPA used to be under AB 36.32, which meant the county mental health department was involved in assessing and placing students. Mental health would pay for the room and board rate and school district was only responsible for the NPS (non public school rate). Jerry Brown pushed all the control of SELPA back to the school districts. Instead of the money going to county mental health departments it now goes to the school districts.For kids whose parents cannot keep them safe, they qualify under “emotional disturbance,” but it takes a lot to get them certified.” The schools are responsible for FAPE Free Appropriate Public Education. They are trying to find the least restrictive environment where the kids can be successful.Kids start off with 504 plan; some go during the day to non-public school setting for services. Kids with diagnosis of depression, anxiety may go to residential. Kids with conduct disorder – oppositional behavior, anti-social behavior may be put on probation.Under the new system, there’s winners and losers, depending upon the district population. It’s expensive. There’s not as much placing going on now as there was before and a lot of placements going on out of state—programs that offer more restrictive environments. The more extreme cases are referred out.

Do you have any problem with alcohol or weapons?

No. I screen out kids who run. Very few kids kicked out.

Do you emphasize AA?

No, but we work with the underlying emotional issues of substance abuse and then the resident is invited into a group called Choice and Change which is a harm reduction model. (Harm reduction – education, relapse plan) Where they are at with their drug use.

What training do staff members have?

We do staff training 6 hours a week. Staff are trained in active listening, taking accountability, direct communication and modeling that behavior. If we have an intern come in, they are not going to work individually with a resident for at least one year. We hold ourselves to the same standards as our kids. Staff takes accountability when they make mistakes.

What commitments do family members need to make?


In the beginning the child is going to try to split like they did at home.  There is ongoing family therapy after about four months.

Is there a county transition program?

Social Advocates for Youth (SAY) Tamayo House in Santa Rosa accepts young adults. You have to be at least 18. Some kids are eligible for AB 12 if they are going to school or working which is 800-900 a month. If you are a foster youth you automatically qualify for AB 12.

What is your annual budget?

We have 50 kids @ $140,000 a year which is approximately 5-6 million annually. We have 100 staff.

Why are there so few residential programs in California?

The rules are more restrictive in California; it’s harder to get licensed. It’s more expensive. If you look at what it costs to operate, it’s cheaper in other states.Staff turnover can be really high in many programs. At Family Life Center, 30 of our staff have been there for more than ten years.


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