Claudia Herrera has always been dedicated to helping others.
Born and raised in Indio, Herrera has been a preschool teacher and a child-development specialist, and she was a career counselor at Martha’s Village and Kitchen for more than 14 years. For the past four years, Herrera has been an instrumental part of Olive Crest’s successful Wraparound Program, which works with at-risk children and their families in a comprehensive team approach.
“All those valuable past experiences and my work at Martha’s Village and Kitchen really prepared me and gave me a good foundation to work at Olive Crest,” Herrera said.
The Olive Crest Wraparound Program consists of four team members: a facilitator, a parent partner, a behavior specialist and a clinician. Facilitators act as case managers, closely working with each family and collaborating with social workers, teachers, foster-family agencies, Court Appointed Special Advocate probation officers and other community members. The parent partners provide peer-based support to parents through advocacy, coaching and unconditional positive regard. The behavioral specialists work one-on-one with the youth to build strong relationships and support them in making positive changes, through motivational techniques and by identifying strengths. The clinicians provide age-appropriate therapy to address any past traumas.
Herrera worked for one year as a parent partner in the Wraparound Program before working to become a facilitator, because she wanted a new challenge and felt her background and experience would be a good fit. Herrera has now been a facilitator for three years. Working alongside Olive Crest children and their families, Herrera identifies different strategies and develops solutions to their problems. Her common-sense approach and individualized programs work to motivate the at-risk children and their families.
“We are always thinking of new ways to get these children and parents to work together, effectively, within the family unit,” Herrera said.
Herrera recently worked with a family with various safety concerns, mental-health struggles and communication barriers. The children were at risk of being removed if changes were not made. Herrera supported the family by creating a safe space for the members to come together each week, to talk openly about the past, and practice positive communication skills. She helped the family through some difficult decisions, increasing the safety of the children while improving communication and keeping the family together.
“This, at times, can be very challenging and emotional work, but our proven team approach has had many successes,” Herrera said. “We start with a referral; then we meet the family and introduce ourselves as the team to start building rapport with the family. The children and family need to get to know us and trust us, as much as we need to get to know and trust them in order to help them.
“I am cautious, but never afraid of going into someone’s home, because I think I’ve had many years of experience with this. What I like about the Olive Crest Wraparound Program is that it is a four-member team approach that definitely works. … It is organic, and I love the teamwork.”
Kids in these at-risk families carry so much on their shoulders. They may be dealing with fear and anger, and many of them are put into the foster-care system for a while. As a result, the kids may act out and display challenging behaviors. The Wraparound team has the challenge of identifying the problems and coming up with solutions. The team works around the family’s schedule, which might involve going to the home in the evening if a family member or members are working during the day.
On average, families are involved with the Wraparound Program for 1 1/2 to 2 years. No matter how long it takes, Herrera and her team never give up and will always advocate for these families all the way through.
“We are here for these children and families,” Herrera says. “Our philosophy is that we are not going to judge a family, and we will be there to help you—no matter how long it takes.”
For more information on Olive Crest, visit olivecrest.org. Madeline Zuckerman is the owner and president of M. Zuckerman Marketing and Public Relations. Olive Crest is a client of her firm.