Celebrating 40 Years of Helping Children and Communities: AFS Reaches a Milestone Anniversary

The world was much different place back in 1978. Disco was still popular, Animal House was showing in theaters, and you only needed $160 to rent a studio in San Francisco. But one thing that hasn’t changed since then is our commitment to helping youth in the greater Bay Area.

Forty years ago, Alternative Family Services officially opened its doors – July 1, 1978 to be exact. What started off as a program for homeless teens in San Francisco has since grown into much more than that, providing youth in need between birth and 21 with a wide variety of services and support.

History of AFS

While AFS was officially founded back in 1978, the real genesis of the organization began five years earlier. In 1973, AFS founder Dr. Jay Berlin began working with San Francisco’s Huckleberry House, a shelter for runaway teens. While there, Jay spearheaded efforts to place many of these youth in foster homes or other alternative housing arrangements, as a number of teens coming to Huckleberry House had nowhere safe to live.

When Jay initially began working at Huckleberry House, the plan was for the fostering support to eventually spin off and become its own free-standing organization. Five years after Jay was first hired, that plan became reality.

AFS got off to an auspicious start. Less than a month before the organization officially opened its doors, state voters had passed Proposition 13, which limited property taxes and thus the amount of government funding available to community groups like AFS. Still, the organization has grown over the years. Starting out just serving youth 16 and older, AFS now provides assistance to parents (both foster and birth parents) along with youth ranging from less than a year old all the way up to 21.

From these humble beginning, AFS has expanded to serve families and kids in sixteen Northern California counties. In fact, AFS is now one of the 25 biggest nonprofits in all of Sonoma County. In total, more than 225 employees work out of our eight locations.

According to Jay, the organization has long been a pioneer in foster care:

“To our knowledge AFS was the first ‘free standing’ private FFA [foster family agency] in California. This was almost a decade before they were called FFAs. In those days it was known as a ‘home finding’ license. Some forward thinking residential treatment facilities and group homes used home finding licenses to develop ‘satellite’ foster homes as a graduation options for their clients. AFS was the first private nonprofit in California to network foster homes, [which helped to] centralize services to [provide youth with] support that was not involved with a centralized residential treatment center.”

Growth of AFS support and services

While AFS may have started out just providing housing support for youth between the ages of 16 and 18, the agency now works with a wide variety of age groups on many of their needs. Still, just like in 1978, providing help and support to children in need and their communities remains at the core of what we do. It says so right in our mission statement: “The Mission of Alternative Family Services is to support vulnerable children and families in need of stability, safety, and wellbeing in communities.”

Here is a snapshot of just some of the services we now provide:

  • Foster care services
    • Therapeutic foster care, including paid respite.
    • Intensive treatment foster care, which can often help to serve as an alternative to the juvenile justice system.
    • Family Alternatives for Children with Developmental Disabilities (FACDD) Foster support specifically designed for the unique needs of children with developmental disabilities.
    • Adoption support – we helped 22 families adopt last year.
  • A wide variety of mental health services.
  • Family reunification and family support services – in fact, AFS helps roughly three out of every four families reunite.
  • Programs for transitional age youth, i.e. those about to age out of the foster care, including life skills support and transitional housing in some counties.

We’ve helped thousands of children and families over the past forty years. To give you a taste of the kind of work we now do and the impact it has, consider this story from CRITA Program Director Barbel Osburg:

“A few years ago I received a referral for a five-year-old boy, who due to his developmental delays was very hard to place. He was described in dire need of a nurturing home and that he was extremely scared. He was afraid of sleeping in the dark. He was non-verbal and had not bonded with anybody. On a gut feeling, I called a parent who we did not have on our DD vacancy list. The parent intuitively said yes to the placement. The bond between the young boy and the parent was immediate. He took to her like he never had to anybody before. Even [though] the placement was at times very challenging and difficult, the foster mother never wavered in her commitment and love for him. Her mothering gave him a second chance at life even at his young age. She is now in the process of taking legal guardianship over him. The story deeply touched me and I am forever grateful for our parent to create a safe and nurturing home for this little guy.”

Celebrating a milestone

To celebrate 40+ years of service to children and our communities, we will be hosting a number of celebrations in April and May throughout the Bay Area. Please go to: Help Foster Youth

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Alternative Family Services

Alternative Family Services (AFS) provides thoughtful, informed foster care, adoption and mental health services throughout California’s San Francisco Bay Area and Greater Sacramento region. Since 1978, the mission of AFS has been – and continues to be – to support vulnerable children and families in need of stability, safety and well-being in communities through foster care, adoption and mental health services.

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