Meeting the Challenge: Riverside County’s Prevention and Early Intervention Mobile Services

April is National County Government Month. During the month, CSAC is producing a series of videos and blog postings highlighting California Counties’ best practices. The programs we are spotlighting are recipients of our annual Challenge Awards, which recognize the innovative and creative spirit of California county governments as they find new and effective ways of providing programs and services to their citizens. The Challenge Awards provide California’s 58 counties an opportunity to share their best practices with counties around the state and nation. The Call for Entries for the 2014 CSAC Challenge Awards is being distributed this month; the entry deadline is June 27, 2014. 

To watch a video about Riverside County’s “Prevention & Early Intervention Mobile Services” program, click here.

Clinical therapists are taking their jobs a few steps above and beyond the typical call of duty in Riverside County. In fact, they are taking them 39 feet beyond.  That’s the length of each of the three mobile clinics that the therapists themselves drive out to different regions of Riverside County. It’s all part of the County’s highly successful Prevention and Early Intervention Mobile Services program.

These mobile clinics, which are specially designed recreational vehicles, bring mental health services to families with children up to 7 years old.  The program meets a need to develop services outside the standard clinic model,  according to Emma Girard, Senior Clinical Psychologist for Riverside County, who helps lead the project.

“It’s not that families don’t want services, it’s that it’s really difficult for them to obtain services,” she said. “Not every family can just hop in a car and drive to a clinic because of transportation problems … These mobile buses drive straight to school sites. That way, it’s within walking distance for families where their children would be attending school. And we are able to provide services right on the school site.”

The mobile treatment units provide Parent Child Interaction Therapy and other therapeutic interventions. Studies also show that delays to treating early socio-emotional development can lead to mental health issues that worsen over time.

Thanks to the Mental Health Services Act, Riverside County was able to lower the age of children able to receive treatment. “That has made a world of difference in terms of early intervention … so that when they started school they were much more successful in a classroom setting as well as a home setting.”

“Families really like the convenience of being within the school distance, walking distance from their home because public transportation isn’t always accessible to families,” Girard said.

Each unit is equipped with a playroom and observation room with a one-way mirror for observation, a playroom camera and microphone to facilitate communications between the therapist and family and to record the interventions. Wireless audio allows the therapist in the adjoining observation room to coach parents in the playroom while interacting with their child.

For children and their parents, the mobile clinics are very inviting, Wrapped with photos of children displaying a variety of emotions, the clinics are roomy, comfortable and full of toys. No wonder, as Dr. Girard puts it, the children are quick to hop on board.

For staff who each received 16 hours of specialized RV driving training, the driving was at first nerve wracking, especially in traffic or on rural roads. Therapist Christina Saiz jokes that she came up with an alter ego personality of a bus driver who had no problems driving the 22,000-pound, 39-foot vehicle.

The value of the mobile units goes beyond the valuable therapy that takes place inside. Each is also equipped to function independently to support disaster relief centers in emergency situations. They also provide community outreach to help reduce stigma by displaying a positive mental health image to the community.

Girard is enthusiastic over the program’s success during its first two years due to this enhanced outreach.  “Parents are open and willing to received mental health services. We are trying to reduce stigma and be available to the community in an atmosphere that makes sense for families to attend. .. where they feel comfortable and they feel safe.”

About: David Liebler:
David Liebler is the Deputy Director of Public Affairs and Member Services for the California State Association of Counties. He can be reached at

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