Breaking Ground on a First-of-its-Kind Child and Wellbeing Center in South LA

Hundreds of people came out to celebrate as Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas led the groundbreaking ceremony for the first-of-its-kind Martin Luther King, Jr. Child and Family Well-being Center, slated to open in Willowbrook in April 2020.

The three-story, 55,000 square foot building will have a Pediatric Medical Hub Clinic on the first floor, an Autism Wellness Center on the second floor, and a Family Justice Center on the third floor, staffed by several Los Angeles County Departments and community-based service providers to maximize collaboration and service integration.

Supervisor Ridley-Thomas speaks at the groundbreaking ceremony. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

“This Center represents the latest in a series of transformational investments in human infrastructure,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said. “We are continuing our commitment to the health of the mind, body and soul of this community. I contend that these are the most critical investments we can make, especially when we focus on children, adolescents, and families.”

The first floor of the Child and Family Well-being Center will replace the three trailers currently serving as the MLK Pediatric Medical Hub Clinic, which provides outpatient clinical services for at-risk pediatric and adolescent patients and their families. The County Departments of Health Services (DHS), Mental Health (DMH), Public Health (DPH), and Children and Family Services (DCFS) will all have staff at the new Center to provide services such as pediatric and adolescent health care for foster youth, and forensic medical examinations, hearing and vision screenings, trauma-informed mental health services, family visitation, and Parent-Child Interactive Therapy.

“The MLK Pediatric Medical Hub Clinic on the MLK Medical Campus is one of the busiest in the County’s system, situated in the region of LA County with the highest density of DCFS cases and managing over 8,000 referrals a year,” County Health Services Director Christina Ghaly said. “Given its critical role in evaluating and caring for children in the DCFS system, DHS is thrilled to be breaking ground on a new state-of-the-art facility that will allow for an expanded set of services that will be provided in an integrated, collaborative manner by County and community-based organizations. Through greater partnership, we will be able to better meet the comprehensive health needs of these most vulnerable children.”

Breaking ground for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Child and Family Well-being Center. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

“The MLK Child and Family Well-being Center is very specifically designed to help DCFS succeed in addressing a multitude of the challenges faced by those engaged in the child welfare system, with a particular focus on the prevention and mitigation of trauma,” County Mental Health Director Jonathan Sherin said. “It heralds a new era of partnership between key LA County departments and the private sector, recognizing that we must always put the wellbeing of our kids and households at the center of everything we do.”

The second floor will house an Autism Wellness Center operated by St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, and the Special Needs Network (SNN). The Autism Wellness Center will provide comprehensive screening, medical, dental, and behavioral health services for special needs children, teens and adults. Other high quality services will include Applied Behavior Analysis, speech and occupational therapies, outdoor sports courts, a yoga center and music, technology and creative spaces.

“Finally, South Los Angeles will have a state-of-the-art health and development center for children with autism and their families that will provide high quality medical and dental care as well as developmental services to an area and a population that has lacked these critical services for far too long,” St. John’s Well Child and Family Center CEO Jim Mangia said. “St. John’s is honored to partner with SNN and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to create this unique and comprehensive program.”

SNN founder and president Areva Martin speaks. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors

“If you should speak to anyone affected by autism, a learning, intellectual or developmental disability, chances are you will hear stories of hidden suffering, shame and discrimination in nearly every sector of their lives. The SNN Autism Wellness Center seeks to change that,” SNN founder and president Areva Martin said. “Through a holistic approach and comprehensive mix of personal and community health and justice, this one-of-a-kind center will provide the kinds of much needed early diagnostic and intervention services sorely missing in communities of color—the kinds that will have a lasting impact on the health of the entire County of Los Angeles.”

The third floor will house a Family Justice Center where a multi-disciplinary team of professionals will work together, under one roof, to provide supportive services to those affected by domestic, family, intimate partner, and sexual violence.

“We are grateful to be working with our County partners to establish the Family Justice Center,” County Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer said. “This wonderful resource for families and children in South LA will help residents confronting domestic violence, not just to assure immediate safety and legal needs, but also to promote long-term family health and well-being.  The Family Justice Center will apply the family-centered, compassionate, culturally-competent approach of the Well-being Center to families for whom domestic violence may be occurring against a back-drop of poverty, racism and other forms of social marginalization.

The MLK Child and Family Well-being Center is the latest addition to a still-expanding MLK Medical Campus, which already includes the MLK Community Hospital, MLK Outpatient Center, MLK Mental Health Urgent Care Center, MLK Recuperative Care Center, and MLK Center for Public Health. MLK Medical Office Building is currently under construction, and plans are underway for the MLK Behavioral Health Center.

Renderings of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Child and Family Well-being Center at the groundbreaking ceremony. Photo by Diandra Jay / Board of Supervisors