Center for Family Strengthening is dedicated to strengthening families through education and advocacy. The center partners with family support organizations in San Luis Obispo County to provide resources to families in need, protect children from abuse and neglect, and ensure that strong families are a community priority.

Helping families thrive.


COVID-19 Support & Resources

Our mission at Center for Family Strengthening (CFS) is to strengthen families through education and advocacy. Our programs remain operational and we are committed to serving our community during this unusual time.

We continue to work closely with family support organizations in SLO County to provide resources to families in need and help mitigate the stressors that put children at risk for abuse and neglect. All families, especially those in vulnerable social and economic situations, need our support now. 

Please stay informed and connected:

California Launches New Comprehensive, Consumer-Friendly Website and Public Service Announcements to Boost COVID-19 Awareness. More information here.

On Wednesday, March 18, 2020 the Emergency Services Director for San Luis Obispo County issued a Shelter at Home Order for the County of San Luis Obispo.  This order takes effect on Thursday, March 19, 2020 at 5:00 pm.  

News Release – Executive Order for Shelter at Home Order – English Version

News Release – Executive Order for Shelter at Home Order – Spanish Version

National Health Information: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Local Health and Safety Information: San Luis Obispo County Public Health Department

Food delivery support for seniors,  disabled individuals, those with health issues that cannot leave their home, and mental health resources:

Family Resources & Support

  • For family resources and support in Spanish, please call the Promotores Collaborative of San Luis Obispo County Program Coordinator Fernanda Lucas at (805) 462-7135. The San Luis Obispo County Promotores continue working diligently to ensure that they are providing resources in Spanish and support by phone to the Latino Community in this time of need. They are connecting families with resources, providing updates on the food bank distributions, and sharing kids’ activity websites.  The Promotores continue providing interpretation for Monolingual families at all the Behavioral Health Clinics of San Luis Obispo County.  They are also assisting at Food Bank Distribution at North County sites. 
  • Pregnancy & Parenting Support of SLO County serves families with children 0 – 2 years old and is open by appointment only. Call the office at 805-541-3367, leave a message and they will call back to schedule an appointment. Supplies available include diapers, wipes, formula, infant and toddler clothing, and more.

Our COVID-19 message on the CFS website will be updated as new information emerges. Please check our website and follow us on Facebook to gain access to current resources and information for children and families.

Guided by the recommendations of the WHO, CDC and the SLO County Public Health Department, Center for Family Strengthening will remain updated on information related to COVID-19 in order to make informed decisions about how we can keep our community safe, healthy and supported.

Thank you for your ongoing support for CFS and all the families we serve in San Luis Obispo County. Together we ensure that strong, healthy families are a community priority. 

With appreciation,

Lisa Fraser, Executive Director
Center for Family Strengthening
(805) 543-6216 

2020 Census: Every child counts

You may have seen messages about the 2020 Census. That’s because April 1, 2020 is Census Day. The Census happens every 10 years and is the only official population count in the U.S.

When you fill out the Census form and count everyone at your address, you help decide how much money our community will receive for the next 10 years. This includes programs that support your loved ones: schools, child care, medical care, food assistance, housing, and public transportation.

Remember, when it comes to the Census, everyone counts. Count ALL children living at your address. Don’t forget to include babies born on or before April 1, 2020, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, foster children, and people not related to you, like a friend and his/her child, if they are living with you on April 1, 2020.

Filling out the Census form for your address is easy. You can respond to the Census online or by phone in English, Spanish, or 11 other languages. You can even do it on your smartphone! Visit on April 1, 2020.

When we all respond to the Census and count all children who live at an address—even children who are not related to the adult filling out the Census form—here’s what happens:

  • Our child care and health centers get more funding during the next 10 years to help the families stay healthy and thrive.
  • Our community also gets more funding for programs like CalFresh, WIC, Medi-Cal, Head Start, and early childhood education for the next decade so families can get the medical care, education and food assistance they need to be healthy.
  • Our elected representation in California and Washington, D.C. is protected and may improve.

By law, the U.S. Census Bureau must keep all information private. Census workers are not allowed to share responses with anyone, including other government agencies, landlords, or anyone else. All Census workers take a lifetime oath to protect personal information. Breaking this law has severe penalties, including a fine up to $250,000, five years in prison, or both.

Visit on April 1, 2020.

San Luis Obispo County Health Access has additional resources and information for providers working with families with children ages 0 – 5.

En California, todos los niños cuentan.

Habrás visto mensajes sobre el censo 2020, ya que el 1 de abril de 2020 es el día del Censo. El censo ocurre cada 10 años y es la única manera oficial de contar la población de los EE. UU.

Al llenar el formulario del censo y contar a todos los que viven en tu dirección, ayudas a determinar la cantidad de dinero que nuestra comunidad recibirá en los próximos 10 años. Ese dinero apoya la escuelas, cuidado infantil, asistencia alimentaria, hogares, cuidado médico y transportación pública.

Recuerda que cuando se trata del censo, todos contamos. Cuenta a TODOS los niños que vivan en tu dirección. No olvides incluir a los bebés nacidos en o antes del 1 de abril de 2020, sobrinos, nietos, hijos adoptivos y cualquier otra persona que no esté relacionada a ti, si ellos viven contigo el 1 de abril de 2020.

Llenar el formulario del censo para tu dirección es fácil. Puedes llenarlo por teléfono o por internet en español, inglés, o en otros 11 idiomas. También lo puedes hacer en un “smartphone” (iPhones, androids, etc.) Visita el 1 de abril de 2020.

Cuando todos llenamos el censo y contamos a los niños que viven en nuestra dirección, aún si el adulto que esté llenando el formulario del censo no esté relacionado con estos niños, esto es lo que ocurre:

  • Los centros de cuido de niño obtienen más fondos durante los próximos 10 años para ayudar a mantener a nuestras familias saludables y a salir adelante.
  • Nuestra comunidad también obtiene fondos para programas como CalFresh, WIC, Medi-Cal y SCHIP para proveer cuidado médico y asistencia alimentara para la próxima década.
  • Nuestra representación del gobierno en California y Washington, D.C. es protegida y puede que mejore.

Por ley, toda la información del censo no se puede compartir con el propietario de tu vivienda o alguna agencia de gobierno. Romper esta ley viene con múltiples penalidades para los funcionarios del Censo, incluso una multa de $250,000, una sentencia de cinco años de cárcel, o ambas cosas.

Motive a las familias a llenar el formulario del censo el 1 de abril de 2020, visitando

Protecting children from sexual abuse in SLO County

How CFS advocates for the prevention of child sexual abuse. 

Many San Luis Obispo County community members read the recent Tribune article “Two girls testify against SLO man in molestation trial”. The abuser was arrested in 2016 and now three years later two young women who were victimized by him bravely testified in court at the end of June.

According to Berkeley Media Studies, news coverage of child sexual abuse is usually tied to a “moment” in the criminal justice process, which means that there is very little coverage of prevention since most reports focus on an incident after the fact and discussions of how to prevent child sexual abuse are virtually absent from news coverage.

At Center for Family Strengthening, we play a central role advocating for the shift of conversations to how institutions can create environments that prevent child sexual abuse in San Luis Obispo County. One approach is our Kidz Toolbox for Personal Safety program. Center for Family Strengthening hires qualified educators who teach children self-protection skills and about safe and unsafe touching. We also provide adults accurate information about child sexual abuse through Kidz Toolbox for Personal Safety. Our approach includes educating parents, teachers, childcare providers and the community, all who play a critical role in protecting children from all forms of abuse.

A recent New York Times article shared about protecting children from sexual abuse through proactive prevention. Give Your Child the Tools to Recognize Sexual Abuse speaks to the importance of talking to children about their bodies, learning appropriate boundaries, and supporting them in sharing when they feel uncomfortable. “Preventing abuse is equally important: By giving children the necessary tools, we can help them learn how to stay safer and support them should they face a traumatic situation” writes Dr. Shani Zoldan-Verschleiser, AuD., L.M.S.W.
The article highlights tips that are taught in our program, Kidz Toolbox for Personal Safety.

  • A child’s feelings and body deserve respect
  • There is a difference between secrets and surprises
  • Create a norm of “asking permission” to touch a child
  • Invite children to use creative descriptions when sharing, including feelings, sensations and age-appropriate terms

With community donations and grant awards from Central Coast Funds for Children and In-N-Out Burger Foundation, Center for Family Strengthening provides Kidz Toolbox for Personal Safety lessons for over 3,000 school-age children and their parents. To learn more, visit

PRESS RELEASE: Dr. Melissa Merrick Named New President & CEO of Prevent Child Abuse America

Chicago—Prevent Child Abuse America (PCA America) announced today that after a nationwide search its board of directors has selected Dr. Melissa Merrick (right) as the organization’s next president and chief executive officer.

Merrick brings more than 18 years of clinical, research and leadership experience related to the etiology, course and prevention of child abuse and neglect. Merrick currently serves as a senior epidemiologist at the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and will begin with PCA America on July 15.

“We’re pleased to have found an individual so uniquely qualified to assume leadership of the nation’s oldest and largest nonprofit organization focused on the primary prevention of child abuse and neglect,” said PCA America Board Chair Andrea Robertson. “Dr. Merrick has strategically framed the prevention of early adversity as an urgent public health need, directly connected to positive child welfare, social and economic outcomes in her work at CDC. We’re thrilled she’ll be leading the next chapter of PCA America’s important work.”

Read more here.

News Release from Womenade – North San Luis Obispo County

Womenade – North San Luis Obispo County will be holding its first public meeting on July 7th at 4:00, at the Twin Cities Hospital’s Morgan Conference room. Come and be a part of this exciting new beginning. There will be refreshments offered and donations will be encouraged.

During the gathering we will be honoring Sandy Richardson, the founder of SLOWomenade many years ago. A notebook is being started and we would appreciate any pictures, letters or notes of appreciation. Please send to This will be a particularly poignant event as Sandy is retiring and Womenade North San Luis Obispo County is just beginning to be formed. And we know that it means we are filling some really big shoes. We are also very excited that Sandy will be joining our Advisory Council as Emeritus Director sharing her expertise and experience.

SLOWomenade has helped thousands of people and we are excited to carry on this tradition. Womenade North San Luis Obispo County is partnering with Lutheran Social Services of Southern California, a 70 year old non-profit, to create a local grass-roots initiative connecting your generosity to your neighbor’s emergency.

A Womenade member captured our work writing: “Lemonade starts with a bunch of lemons, Womenade started with a bunch of women, the rest….is history!” This group of fun people are carrying a long tradition of making a concrete difference in the lives of people in the North County. Come and join the fun!

Postpartum Depression Support in SLO County

Anna’s Postpartum Depression Story

Anna was so excited to have her baby.  Her friends celebrated her first pregnancy by giving her a lavish shower full of cute baby clothes, blankets, diapers, and many other necessities. At the shower, there were lots of smiles and “awes” from all at her party.  Two weeks later, Anna gave birth to an 8-pound beautiful, healthy baby. 

Within days after coming home, Anna’s world collapsed and tossed her into a sea of confusion, pain, and depression.  She felt worried and hopeless and had a hard time bonding with her baby.  These feelings left Anna terrified for herself and baby.  Anna was experiencing postpartum depression.

She was not prepared for what was happening to her.  Throughout her prenatal care, Anna’s health care providers, birthing class specialists, and obstetricians had shared about the joys of being a new mother and had never talked about postpartum depression and the symptoms she might experience. When symptoms did occur, Anna was taken by complete surprise; she had no clue that she was the one out of five mothers whose life would be impacted by Postpartum Depression.

What is Postpartum Depression (PPD)?

Women who have PPD suddenly experience depression while challenged with the overwhelming demands of caring for a newborn baby and while recovering from childbirth.  The new mother can experience up to five Major Depressive Disorder symptoms that are present nearly every day.  She may suddenly experience many of the following symptoms:

  1. Fatigue
  2. Lack of interest or pleasure in all or most activities
  3. Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
  4. Recurrent thoughts of death
  5. Recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan or attempt
  6. Significant weight gain or loss
  7. Insomnia or hypersomnia
  8. Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  9. Poor concentration

What makes depression so poignant for postpartum women is childbirth is culturally celebrated, and there is an expectation that new parents, especially mothers, will be joyful as they care for their new baby.” 

Dr. Walker Karraa, Ph.D., noted author and leader in maternal mental health

The demands of caring for a newborn on a mother are substantial. The demands are often difficult to bear in normal circumstances, and any additional stress, complications, and risk factors exacerbate the disability of the mother to deal with depression symptoms (e.g., overwhelming sadness, disabling tiredness, loss of interest, and difficulty concentrating on even the simplest tasks). New mothers often feel the stigma of suffering from a mental illness, when they had expected to feel total joy and astonishment over their new baby.

Anna reacted exactly as Dr. Karraa describes. She misunderstood her condition and felt the guilt of suffering from a mental illness. It is no wonder that even though Anna knew she wanted to be a good Mother, she resisted getting help.

How Can We Help Mothers like Anna?

Nearly 80% of the 2600 mothers giving birth each year in San Luis Obispo County experience some form of Postpartum Depression— from the mild Baby Blues to the full-blown Postpartum Depression with Anxiety and Panic Disorders. Center for Family Strengthening (CFS) and Pregnancy & Parenting Support of San Luis Obispo County (PPS) have teamed together to promote physical and mental health for mothers, children, and families through their programs and outreach. Their services include:—Thanks to the generous financial support provided by First 5 San Luis Obispo County, CFS and PPS have created and maintained a website where prospective, and new parents can connect and learn about symptoms and treatments for Baby Blues, Postpartum Depression, and Anxiety Disorders.  The website provides a a 24 hour hotline so mothers can get immediate help.

Pregnancy & Parenting Support is a safe place a mother can turn to receive emotional support, empathy and personable care.  Pregnancy and Parenting Support staff is trained to recognize the signs of PPD, to make needs assessments and refer Mothers to mental health counselors as required.  The staff empowers mothers, helping them become self-reliant and strong advocates for themselves and their families. In addition to emotional support and counseling referrals for maternal mental health concerns, PPS also provides tangible necessities as needed for the well being of families with children up to age two.  PPS is a bilingual and bicultural agency that supports families of all ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Women in SLO County experiencing any PPD symptoms can call Pregnancy & Parenting Support at 805-541-3367 for free, confidential information and referrals.

Educational Outreach—Postpartum Depression often affects the entire family.  Center for Family Strengthening provides extensive educational outreach to the entire SLO County community to create awareness about Postpartum Depression and to promote physical and mental health for mothers, children, and families.  CFS is well versed in the network of social services agencies and provides linkages to other agencies to support the new mother and her baby.  Through its Parent Connection program, CFS offers parents confidential, one-on-one parent coaching at no cost in English and Spanish. Parents and caregivers needing support can call 805-543-3700 to connect with a parent coach.

CFS and PPS collaborate to bring Maternal Mental Health Support groups in areas of the community that are secluded from the rest of the county.  These support groups are designed to help mothers connect with other mothers and with professionals to receive the services and support they need most. Contact Pregnancy & Parenting Support at 805-541-3367 to join a group or refer a mother.

Postpartum Depression is serious and left untreated may cause significant stress and potentially trigger abuse of the newborn baby.  A woman cannot “pull herself out of it” any more than she can pull herself out of a heart attack.  All symptoms, from the mildest to the most severe are treatable.  Most importantly, a woman does not need to suffer through this alone.

Mothers remember:

You are not alone

You are not to blame

You will get better

There is help!

Women in SLO County experiencing symptoms, partners, and concerned family members can call Pregnancy & Parenting Support at 805-541-3367 for free, confidential information and referrals. Pregnant/postpartum women and their families will be connected with qualified treatment services and accessible health resources as needed.

2019 Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week

Approximately 2600 babies are born each year in San Luis Obispo County. Childbirth can be difficult. Maternal Mental Health Disorders are the most common complication of childbirth.

Depression and anxiety affect 1 in 5 pregnant and postpartum women. Postpartum depression may occur immediately after birth or many months later. The longer a depression goes undiagnosed and untreated, the more impact it has on the woman and her family. Postpartum depression often leaves women feeling ashamed, isolated and with overwhelming feelings of guilt.

Risk Factors for Depression – experiences that may put some women at a higher risk for depression include:

  • Stress.
  • Low social support.
  • Difficulty getting pregnant.
  • Being a mom to multiples, like twins, or triplets.
  • Losing a baby.
  • Being a teen mom.
  • Preterm (before 37 weeks) labor and delivery.
  • Having a baby with a birth defect or disability.
  • Pregnancy and birth complications.
  • Having a baby or infant who has been hospitalized.

Some women with postpartum emotional disorders recover without incident. Many others need professional help. Postpartum emotional problems are physical and real. A woman can not “pull herself out of it” any more than she can pull herself out of a heart attack.

Depression can also occur among women with a healthy pregnancy and birth. Fathers and partners are effected as well and are more likely to become depressed before or after baby’s birth if the moms were also afflicted. In additional to the resources below fathers and partners can find support through Parent Connection of SLO County, including support groups and parent coaching.

A woman experiencing any symptoms can call our Support Line 805-541-3367 for free confidential information and referrals in English and Spanish. All the symptoms, from the mildest to the most severe are temporary and treatable. Treatment varies, depending on the severity of the symptoms. For more information visit our Pregnancy & Postpartum Depression program page or If you need Support Line brochures in English or Spanish, please contact the CFS office at 805-543-6216.

2019 Children’s Memorial Flag Raising Ceremony

Please join us for the 1st Annual Children’s Memorial Flag Raising Ceremony in San Luis Obispo County.

The Department of Social Services in collaboration with the California Office of Child Abuse Prevention and Center for Family Strengthening will be participating in a statewide raising of the Children’s Memorial Flag to honor young lives lost due to senseless violence. We gather as a community in April for National Child Abuse Prevention Month to acknowledge the importance of working together to prevent child maltreatment. 

Date/Time: Friday, April 26, 2019 at 1:30 pm 
Location: Courthouse (Flag Pole and Plaza area). 1050 Monterey St. San Luis Obispo, CA 93408

For questions, please contact Sandra Jimenez at 805-781-1879 or via E-mail at

2019 Child Abuse Prevention Academy

Please join Center for Family Strengthening and Cuesta College Early Childhood Education for the Annual Child Abuse Prevention Academy
We gather every April in honor of National Child Abuse Prevention Month to acknowledge the importance of working together to prevent child abuse and neglect, and to promote the social and emotional well-being of children and families in San Luis Obispo County.

Register here!

Give Children Affected by Trauma a Chance to Thrive

Martha’s Place Gives Children who Suffer from Prenatal Substance Exposure and Early Childhood Trauma a Chance to Thrive and to Reach their Full Potential.

A research study known as the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACEs) shows that traumatic experiences in childhood including divorce, domestic violence, abuse and neglect are associated with a greater rate of negative health outcomes later in life, including drug addiction, mental illness, chronic health conditions and even early death. (See the ACEs Study by Kaiser Permanente.) The term “complex trauma” may be used to describe both children’s exposure to multiple traumatic events as well as the long-term effects of this exposure.

In addition to children who have experienced trauma, infants who have been prenatally exposed to alcohol and/or other substances are also vulnerable to experiencing challenges over the course of their life. In 2003, the Public Health Assessment Survey conducted by Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County reported that there were significantly higher incidences of substance abuse among pregnant women on the Central Coast compared to national average:42% screened positive for drug use; 18% of mothers reported smoking during pregnancy; 35% endorsed using alcohol at some point in their pregnancy. We know that use of these substances impacts the development of the fetus and poses health and developmental threats to the child. Due to these findings, it was deemed to be critical in our community to assess these exposed infants as early as birth and provide targeted early intervention treatment up to five years of age to mediate negative health outcomes to the fullest extent possible. 

In 2007, Shirley Bianchi, retired 2nd District Supervisor, along with other SLO County Community Leaders took action and founded Martha’s Place, an assessment and treatment center for children birth to five. Martha’s Place is a San Luis Obispo County Health Agency program where Mental Health and Public Health are integrated to provide services for children birth to five. Martha’sPlace provides expert, multidisciplinary assessment of infants and young children who exhibit extreme behavioral concerns, developmental delays, and known prenatal substance exposure.

Martha’s Place was named in honor of Martha Johnston great-granddaughter of Shirley Bianchi, whose life, though tragically short, exemplifies both the damage alcohol and drugs can have on children as well as the amazing resiliency of youth when help is provided. We know that brain development is extremely vulnerable during the first five years of life; and therefore it is crucial that children be evaluated medically, developmentally, socially and emotionally beginning as early as possible to identify any areas of concern and address these concerns before they become more challenging and solidified issues.

Martha’s Place is devoted to helping children in our community to reach their full potential, to be loved, to be emotionally well developed and to enter school ready and able to learn. Martha’s Place helps give our most vulnerable young children a voice and a safe, stable environment in which to thrive. It is crucial that Martha’s Place continue to serve children who have this very critical need.

The clinical staff at Martha’s Place including pediatricians, mental health therapists and public health nurses receive specialized training on detecting signs of trauma in infants and toddlers and are knowledgeable in the wide-range of resources in our community dedicated to supporting children and their families. Dr. Nisha Abdul Cader, conducts the specialized pediatric exams at Martha’s Place. She is also the Medical Director for the Suspected Abuse Response Team and serves as the supervising physician at the Juvenile Service Center for the County of San Luis Obispo. As a medical student and pediatric resident at Harbor-UCLA, Dr. Abdul Cader co-founded the UMMA Community Clinic in South Central Los Angeles and is Board Certified in General and Child Abuse Pediatrics. Dr. Abdul Cader frequently lectures locally and throughout the state on prenatal substance exposure evaluation and treatment, as well as on topics concerning child maltreatment.

Today Martha’s Place provides developmentally appropriate, evidence-based services to over 300 children each year. The clinic follows the SART Model of treatment—Screening, Assessment, Referral and Treatment—created by Dr. Ira Chasnoff in Chicago. 

Developmental Screening ideally takes place in the community setting, such as by a family’s primary pediatric provider or in a preschool program. At Martha’s Place, screening tools include Ages and Stages Questionnaires and Child Behavior Checklists, through CHADIS, a web-based diagnostic, management, and tracking tool designed to assist professionals in efficiently addressing parents’ concerns about their child’s behavior and development. There are also screening tools for sensory processing differences, such as hypersensitivity to sound, touch, or taste, that can be caused by prenatal substance exposure and early childhood trauma.

In the Assessment phase, the state of the child’s physical and mental health is determined during the intake process. The mental health assessment includes: a comprehensive psycho-social history, observation conducted by a therapist and a child/adolescent needs and strengths (CANS) assessment. The specialized pediatric assessment includes: an in-depth review of the child’s medical history; caregiver interview; a physical growth and development evaluation; and, observations of physical and behavioral signs/symptoms of fetal alcohol/drug exposure and complex trauma.

Following these assessments, the family is provided with referrals to support their child’s identified needs. Referrals include additional specialized medical assessments, such as neurology or hearing evaluations, developmental services, parenting groups, and special education local plan area (SELPA) to advocate for services and accommodations through the school district. Community-based organizations, such as Family Resource Centers, often provide additional services to help families meet their basic needs such as housing, food, transportation and clothing that may be impacting the family’s ability to fully participate in services.

Finally, treatment recommendations are provided to the family, which may include: individual play therapy to process trauma, family therapy to develop secure attachments with caregivers, occupational therapy, and on occasion, medication management. This treatment can be provided at Martha’s Place, by contracted providers in the community or at other County behavioral health clinics closer to the family’s home.

The Role of Attachment in a Child’s Development

Attachment is the deep and enduring connection that is established between a child and caregiver in the first several years of life. This relationship profoundly influences every aspect of a child’s development. A child who has experienced a disrupted attachment/trauma can present with anger, temper tantrums, aggressive behavior, anxiety, withdrawn behavior, sleep and/or eating problems. Their development can be delayed in language, coordination, balance, sensory responsiveness, cognitive functioning and they may have difficulties in processing new information. They also often exhibit poor social and emotional skills and have challenges in reading social cues. Frequently, there is a strong need for control and low self-esteem.

The focus of the team at Martha’s Place is to improve the child’s ability to attach in a healthy way with caregivers—a secure attachment relationship is the primary protective factor in minimizing the negative effects of trauma on the child.

Healthy attachment includes learning basic trust and reciprocity, the child exploring their environment with feelings of safety and security and the ability to co-regulate impulses and emotions. Healthy attachment creates the formation of identity-including a sense of competency, self-worth, and a balance between autonomy and dependency. Importantly, it provides the child the opportunity to form a prosocial moral framework including empathy, compassion, and conscience. It generates a core belief system and provides a defense against stress and trauma.

Martha’s Place Success in Children recovering from Trauma in San Luis Obispo County

Martha’s Place has seen significant positive changes in the lives of children who have been prenatally exposed to substances and/or trauma. Outcome data from 2017 compiled at Martha’s Place indicates that the children served experience a significant reduction in aggressive behaviors as well as improvements in attachment and in sleep. Two families who received services at Martha’s Place agreed to share their experiences:

“When my family was considering moving out of the area, the number one reason we stayed was because of Martha’s Place and the key services it provided our child. Our son is a totally different child since beginning treatment at Martha’s Place. He no longer exhibits continuous meltdowns and his mood has evened out. Medication with therapy has allowed him to be able to engage more appropriately and benefit from interventions”.

“We have received services at Martha’s Place for 3 years and are so pleased with the great progress the therapist achieved with our daughter in helping to alleviate her anxiety and prepare her for elementary school. The therapist, and other experienced professionals, provided guidance to the entire family with parenting skills and support.  The pediatrician is a valuable ally throughout our daughter’s treatment program and the rest of the staff at Martha’s Place are excellent. We cherish each and every visit.”

For many families, Martha’s Place is the most important organization within the community providing mental health services that would otherwise be inaccessible or cost prohibitive.  

Model of Care Partners Oversight Committee of Martha’s Place (MoCPOC)

MoCPOC, chaired by Mary Bianchi, Aunt of Martha Johnston, seeks to leverage community resources in an open format that informs all partners on the current needs of Martha’s Place and to stimulates ideas, discussion and solutions to ensure children’s needs are being met through the System of Care. MoCPOC is made up of representatives from agencies and individuals including: Center for Family Strengthening, SLO County Child Welfare Services, SLO County Health Agency, SELPA, Community Action Partnership of SLO County, and County Supervisor Bruce Gibson.

MoCPOC’s Vision is for the community of San Luis Obispo to ensure all children will receive any interventions, treatment and support they may need to reach their highest level of growth and development; live safely in their homes, succeed in school, have meaningful friendships, grow up healthy, and become resilient citizens of our community.

A special message from Mary Bianchi:

Martha’s Place was named in honor of my niece, Martha Johnston, whose tragically short life exemplifies the damage alcohol and drugs can have on the very young. My family was inspired to take action so other young children could have a better chance to heal from the trauma of abuse and neglect. Martha’s Place helps our family deal with the pain and grief of losing our Martha.
My mom, Shirley Bianchi, is a founding member of Martha’s Place. I am honored to follow in her footsteps and serve on the Model of Care Oversight Partners Committee of Martha’s Place (MoCPOC) and the Center for Family Strengthening Board of Directors.  
I serve because I am devoted to improving resources dedicated to serve children birth to five years of age suffering with severe developmental delays and behavioral challenges due to prenatal substance exposure and/or early childhood trauma. For these children and their families, particularly those with financial challenges, Martha’s Place is the portal to mental health services they need in San Luis Obispo County. Please join me in providing young children affected by trauma a chance to grow, learn, and thrive. 

Please contribute to the Friends of Martha’s Place Fund. Contact Center for Family Strengthening at 805 543-6216 or for more information. All contributions are tax deductible.


Martha’s Place Assessment and Treatment Team Includes:

Program Supervisor: Katie Cohen, LMFT, PsyD

Mental Health Therapists: Casey Roos, LMFT, Jill Anderson, LMFT, Rachel McSpadden-Tarver, LMFT, RPTS

Public Health Nurses: Laura Ottrando, RN, and Betty Wighton, RN

Pediatricians: Nisha Abdul Cader, MD, and Christy Mulkerin, MD

Health Information Technician: Michelle Archer

Reception/Administrative Assistant: Elizabeth Schmidt

Elizabeth Family Advocate: Marivel Flores

Public Health Administrative Assistant: Mary Teresi

24 April 2020

18 July 2020

Newsletter Sign-up