This is the time of year to be thankful. And I am thankful and honored that I not only knew, but had the opportunity to work with Carol Allen, retired Juvenile and Family Court Commissioner. Carol went to be with the Lord a few weeks ago as a result of complications from Covid-19. She was a remarkable woman who made a profound difference to the lives of children, youth and families here in San Luis Obispo County, and as a Board member of the Family Care Network. She was much loved and will be missed much as well.
I first met Commissioner Allen when FCNI was just a fledgling organization, attempting to implement Therapeutic Foster Care in a system that was skeptical, at best. On occasion, I would accompany one of our clients to Juvenile Court. It was on one of these trips that Carol said she would like to learn more about our organization; so I invited her for lunch. Seriously, having personally worked within the Juvenile Court system for so many years, I was surprised that she would take the time, and so honored that she did.
When the Commissioner arrived at our small Victorian office on the Creek in San Luis Obispo, I had pulled together my staff and a handful of foster parents. It was a wonderful beginning to a long-standing relationship. She asked some very challenging questions, offered really good suggestions, and made it very clear that she was a strong supporter of what we were doing with “Therapeutic Foster Care” to better serve high-needs foster youth within a “family setting” versus institutional care.
It wasn’t long after this meeting that I heard rumblings about the contentious state of affairs between our major county child serving agencies, (i.e.,Social Services, Probation and Mental Health). In response to this condition, Carol Allen pulled all of the department heads together, along with the Juvenile Justice Commission in an attempt to forge collaboration and cooperation, and eliminate the ongoing “turf wars.” Commissioner Allen shared that she heard about an initiative in Riverside County launched by their Juvenile Court Judge to create a Children’s Services Bureau to solve a similar problem in that county.
Juvenile Justice member Jim Brabeck, and Commissioner Allen launched a year-long process to develop our county’s Children’s Services Network Council, which was adopted by the County Board of Supervisors in 1991. This initiative was one of the most important groups ever established in the history of our county; and it put San Luis Obispo County front and center as one of the most effective, collaborative systems in California, and produced multiple model programs to serve children, youth and families. If it weren’t for Commissioner Allen, this would never have happened.
One of the most important initiatives that the Children’s Services Network (CSN) launched was the County’s Wraparound program. I had learned about Wraparound from my participation in the California Alliance of Child & Family Services, and the work that EmQ, a peer agency located in the Bay Area, was doing to bring Wraparound to California. Early on, I was able to get staff from FCNI and Social Services to participate in some of the training EmQ was doing. At that time, Carol was the Chair of CSN and agreed to allow an executive from EmQ to do a presentation on Wraparound. Everyone was sold, and CSN launched a steering committee to create a Wraparound Plan to be submitted to the state under SB 163. Less than a year later, San Luis Obispo County was the third in California to officially launch Wraparound.
Commissioner Allen was especially supportive of this program, and made sure that the county agencies took full advantage of it, changing their default of sending kids to group homes out of county. Within a few years of its launch, the county was able to reduce group home placements by nearly 70%! It was through Carol’s insistence that Wraparound grew rapidly and became a state recognized model program.
In 2001, Carol retired after 20 years on the bench. In 2002, she and her husband, Jim, joined the Family Care Network’s Board of Directors. Unique to FCNI, they joined as a couple, counting as one vote. For the next 10 years we were blessed to have both of them serve with us. With her extraordinary background on the Juvenile and Family Court, Carol brought amazing knowledge, experience, and guidance to our Board. This was especially true as we pioneered new program opportunities and ideas.
Carol’s contributions were extensive. For many years she reviewed all of our “incident reports” as required by state licensing and then reported back to the Board. We couldn’t have had a more qualified or experienced person doing this--she understood these kids and some had even appeared before her when she served on the bench. She also played a critical role in educating our Board members about the juvenile court system. And she helped us conduct a complete review and rewrite of our corporate bylaws, and so much more. The Allens hosted numerous Board retreats at their home, and substantially guided our emerging fundraising efforts with their wisdom and input.
For me, Carol was a wonderful counselor and mentor. She was extraordinarily wise, godly, thoughtful, and thorough. She always provided great guidance, asking tough questions and offering wise solutions. As you would expect from a judge, she really made one think and consider all options. And, she always remained gentle, caring, and passionate about the children, youth, and families in our care. To say the least, I was quite sad when she and Jim decided their tenure on our Board was over, but I was immensely appreciative and honored to have had their friendship, guidance, and wisdom.
At this time of Thanksgiving, the most important thing to be thankful for is our loved ones--our families and friends. I am so thankful for the opportunity to have known Carol Allen, and for her incredible character, integrity, and wisdom to have been shared with me. I know Carol is where she wanted to go, in the presence of the Lord, and that someday we will once again be together.