From its humble beginnings as an orphanage for Jewish children living on the streets of Los Angeles, Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services evolved into a center for supporting children and their families with mental health services, intensive residential treatment, adoptions, and more.
Vista Del Mar has adapted to the changing needs of its community over the last century and remains as innovative and forward-thinking as it was when it was founded in 1908.
Innovation and Evolution at Vista Del Mar
Originally founded as an orphanage in response to the growing number of homeless children in the wake of a wave of Jewish immigration to the United States at the beginning of the 20th century, Vista Del Mar was created by B’nai B’rith Lodge Number 487 on October 3, 1908. The organization was an innovator almost from its founding. In 1912, it became the first modern “cottage-style” orphanage in Southern California. Cottage-style orphanages broke up the traditional set-up of housing many children in one large building, instead placing them in smaller buildings, called cottages. This plan alleviated overcrowding and improved living conditions for the children.
Another wave of Jewish immigration took place in 1930s, with the flight of Jews from Nazi Germany and other central and eastern European nations where they faced persecution. World War II and its immediate aftermath brought even more Jewish immigrants to the United States, including many children who had lost their parents during the war. These children often exhibited serious emotional and behavioral problems, and prompted the next major change at Vista Del Mar.
Board Superintendent Joseph Bonapart recognized the need to deal with this changing situation, and he shifted the focus of Vista Del Mar to treatment of children with mental health issues. In 1952, a new mission statement was adopted. The organization now focused on operating a facility where children in need could receive social, psychiatric, and other services—whether they lived at home with their families, in foster care, or in orphanages.
Following mergers in the 1970s and 1980s with other organizations dealing with children’s development and mental health, Vista Del Mar expanded its services to include helping children with developmental disabilities, providing parental education, and facilitating family counselling. Additional expansion into autism care and family preservation continue to make Vista Del Mar the standard of care for children with special needs.
Providing the Best Care to the Most Vulnerable
Today, Vista Del Mar offers a variety of programs to assist children and families in crisis. Its residential treatment programs help children from 12 to 18 resolve behavioral and emotional problems in a compassionate, non-judgmental way. These programs evaluate and meet the needs of these young people on an individual basis and encompass psychological, spiritual, social, and educational aspects.
Vista Del Mar also works with the Departments of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and Probation of Los Angeles County to help at-risk youth remain with their families. Children removed from their families by DCFS due to abuse and/or neglect are helped by the Multidisciplinary Assessment Team, which evaluates the specific needs of the child and recommends the best course of action for their safety and wellbeing.
For children with autism and learning differences, the Vista School utilizes small classes sizes from elementary to high school to give children and teens the maximum personal attention from their teachers. Beyond academics, the Vista School helps students in their social development and addresses behavioral problems. Older students are additionally taught independent living skills and given vocational or college preparatory training. More than 65% of Vista School graduates go on to continue their education in college or trade schools.
Individualized Assessment Is the Key to Treatment
Evaluating a child’s condition is the first step to treatment, and Vista Del Mar has a team of mental health professionals with the knowledge and experience to administer various tests for conditions like autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Vista’s experts can assess a child’s condition and make recommendations for future treatment. Not every child with autism or ADHD has the same needs, and Vista Del Mar’s assessments are individual to each child.
Vista Del Mar also offers a comprehensive range of therapy and counselling services to help both youth and their parents in coping with trauma, family problems, and other issues. Innovative therapies, including play therapy, which allows children to express themselves in a way that feels natural to them, puts Vista Del Mar at the forefront of its field. Parenting therapies seek to improve communication between children and their parents to create a better home atmosphere more conducive to good mental health.
In addition to all this, the original function of Vista continues to this day. Vista Del Mar is the oldest adoption agency in Southern California. Adoption services for both birth parents and families who wish to adopt a child are offered, including a program that allows prospective parents to transition from foster care to adoption. Vista has also partnered with several accredited U.S. placement agencies that facilitate adoptions of children from foreign countries.
Vista Del Mar has been at the cutting edge of child care and development for over a century. It always seeks new solutions to old problems and continues to be a worldwide leader in innovative methods of assessment, treatment, and counselling. With state-of-the-art facilities and a friendly, compassionate, and experienced staff, Vista Del Mar is well positioned to continue providing the best care for children and families in need.