On Thursday, I was the keynote speaker at the Family Preservation Conference held at Houston’s Reliant Crown Plaza. When I was invited to speak I really wasn’t sure that I had the time to prepare a presentation and wasn’t convinced that I was the right person to be presenting. After all, it had been a long time since I had worked in mental health. But Alvin Sallee of New Mexico State University and a founder of the Family Preservation Institute urged me to speak, saying, “It is in your blood. It’s what you’ve been doing all your life.”
So with that encouragement and still very little time to work on a speech, I decided to present on both my works in New Mexico with the Consortium for Behavioral Health, Training, Evaluation and Research (CBHTER), and my work many years ago at the Centro de Bienestar in San Jose. I also the Behavioral Health Collaborative, which consists of eighteen agencies working together to coordinate and improve behavioral health services in New Mexico.
All of this work is consistent with family preservation, which is holistic, believes in empowering family members, and promotes advocacy, education, and the improvement of family life. Family preservation believes that, in most cases, strengthening and preserving the family is better than removing children from the family unit. It assumes that family remediation works, that family members can learn new behaviors and that social workers can help promote that process.
The work of the Centro de Bienestar was similar. Centro de Bienestar in English means the Center for Well-Being. It was founded on a perspective that the social fabric, families and social networks, are important elements for community mental health.
Under this perspective, the individual is viewed in the context of their social setting, including the family. Where possible, social networks—friends, family, the church and other important part of that fabric are brought to bear on the healing process. We recognized that social work and therapeutic techniques evolve based on the needs of clients and society.
I explained that we had formed cross teams that included social workers, clinical psychologists, licensed marriage and family therapists, community mental health workers, etc. Community mental health workers were encouraged to pursue certificates and degrees, and several became licensed therapists.
I discussed some of these approaches and urged conference participants to take a research and practice approach: to apply what they learn, write and present on their practices, and share their work with others as many had done at the conference I also urged them to consider the public policy implications of their work, to advocate for their clients, and to advocate for changes in law and policy that benefit their clients, family preservation, and society.
I ended with a couple of quotes on family. Alex Haley, author of “Roots,” wrote: “In every conceivable manner, family is the link to our past, the bridge to our future.” Preserving family preserves society, and it too is a bridge to the future. Finally, I quoted a sign I read at a barber shop: “Families are like fudge…mostly sweet with a lot of nuts.” It’s our job to bring it all together.