by Sara Cardine, Daily Pilot/TNS | October 18, 2022
COSTA MESA, Calif. — Children and young adults with developmental disabilities that present severe behaviors — such as sudden episodes of impulse or aggression, angry verbal outbursts or violence — often have few places to turn to for help, hope and treatment.
Families may be frustrated or feel they’ve reached the end of their rope in finding services for loved ones, as few facilities and programs exist and those that do are often at capacity. Enter Easterseals of Southern California.
The nonprofit serves more than 15,000 people with disabilities, primarily autism spectrum disorders, which affect 1 in 26 children in California, according to the CDC. In 2020, when Easterseals acquired the Irvine-based Center for Behavioral Sciences, it was able to launch an outpatient Severe Behavior Services Program, the only one of its kind on the West Coast.
Today, a team of applied behavior analysis therapists, speech pathologists and other professionals work intensely with 18 patients throughout the year in Irvine and at a smaller facility in Northridge.
Staff provide intensive, short-term treatment that allows participants to remain at home or transition safely back into a school or work environment, says Paula Pompa-Craven, chief clinical officer.
“We’re talking about people who may be a danger to themselves or others, or who have severely injurious or aggressive behavior,” Pompa-Craven said. “A lot of times, these individuals fall through the cracks, because there aren’t services that support them.”
Patients as young as 10 years old come from Orange and Los Angeles counties, and from as far as Kern and San Diego counties, to receive functional assessment, analysis and consultation along with occupational and physical therapy and help with social skills.
And now, the program is looking to expand.
Easterseals officials have announced a fundraising campaign that aims to raise $6 million to $7 million for the expansion of the Severe Behavior Services Program that would allow it to serve up to 100 participants from throughout Orange County and beyond at its Irvine facility.
“We know the methodology and services we have work, so we wanted to expand on the West Coast,” Pompa-Craven said.
Kickstarting that effort, the nonprofit recently welcomed a $1-million state budget allocation through the office of state Assemblyman Steven Choi (R-Irvine), whose district represents Irvine, Anaheim, Lake Forest, Orange and Tustin.
Choi, who met with nonprofit leaders in a ceremony recently to recognize the contribution, said he was petitioned by Easterseals leaders, who explained their desire to expand to serve more clients.
“I was impressed with the current facilities they have and all the tools they have already in place for serving individuals with disabilities,” he said. “They need more space and program expansion, and that made a lot of sense.”
Although Choi initially requested $5 million, he said the acquisition was the most significant budget request granted by the state in his district since his election in 2016.
Pompa-Craven said that since the center’s operations are primarily funded by health insurers, funds would go toward expanding its physical facilities and hiring more staff to bring in new participants.
Dr. Joyce C. Tu, who founded the original Center for Behavior Sciences and now works with Easterseals, said expanding local services will help ease the burden of families who currently have to seek costly services out of state.
“There are very limited providers who offer severe behavior services and none that offer whole- person, long-term therapies,” she said in a statement. “This one-of-a-kind, outpatient center means proximity to services, autonomy and hope.”
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