Supporting the Mental Health of Alameda County's Youngest

  • January 14, 2019

Approximately 122,500 children ages 0 to 5-years-old live in Alameda County, with as many as 18,000 of them needing mental health services. However, only about one-tenth of those are receiving the help they need. That’s according to research conducted by Margie Gutierrez-Padilla, early childhood division director for Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services.

“This coursework will give clinicians more depth, and it will impact the mental health workforce in a positive way.”

“There continues to be an unmet need for early childhood mental health services in Alameda County,” said Gutierrez-Padilla.

This spring, Cal State East Bay will help fill that need, preparing future and current mental health service providers and their families through a new Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health postgraduate certificate program.

The two-year, in-class program is the only one of its kind in the East Bay and designed to prepare mental health practitioners to provide mental health services to infants, young children their families. And while the program is open to all qualified students, employees of Alameda County are eligible to have their tuition subsidized.

That partnership is the result of several years of county research and planning, led by Gutierrez-Padilla, who began surveying the mental health agencies in Alameda County three years ago and paying close attention to areas that needed further development. She concluded that all 17 agencies in the county would benefit from more in-depth training, with a focus on the cultural, racial, ethnic and socio-economic background of patients.

After the survey, Gutierrez-Padilla began searching for ways to improve the outcome of early childhood clinical work and decided to reach out to a university. She needed a willing school in Alameda County that would have a grasp on Bay Area culture and an understanding about its diversity. Cal State East Bay came to mind right away and the program was born, she said.

“Cal State East Bay upholds the diversity of the Bay Area.”

“Being invested with Cal State East Bay creates more knowledgeable clinicians and develops the skill set for Alameda’s mental health providers to serve families,” said Gutierrez-Padilla. “Families will receive culturally-appropriate services by a provider who they can trust. Having this program at the university means it’s a county and community-based collaborative.”

A 2014 study conducted by the “The Atlantic” found Alameda County to be the most diverse county in California and the fourth most diverse in the United States. Because of this, Gutierrez-Padilla said she hopes to attract students who are similar to the families they will serve and requested the program take place at the university’s Oakland Center for its location — only two blocks away from Bay Area Rapid Transit’s 12th Street station.

She also referred to the experienced faculty as being one of the program’s strongest assets, including Marriage and Family Therapist Deborrah Bremond who will serve as a primary instructor.

“Cal State East Bay upholds the diversity of the Bay Area,” Bremond said. “This coursework will give clinicians more depth, and it will impact the mental health workforce in a positive way.”

She added that in addition to tackling the clinician shortage, the program’s coursework is designed to be preventative, teaching practitioners how to pay attention to their patients’ issues before they get worse.

“There aren’t enough clinicians in community-based organizations that work with children and families so I’m looking forward to this program,” said Bremond. “Students will work with a broader population, and it gives them exposure they wouldn’t get any other way. This program is a vehicle that will lead to bigger and better things.”