Early in 1949 a group of Austin citizens composed of interested citizens and child serving agencies such as the public schools, the juvenile court, welfare agencies, and voluntary agencies, formed a steering committee to study the local mental health needs and to recommend an appropriate service agency. Also involved were civic clubs and organizations, the local Mental Health Association, the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health, the State Department of Health, the Junior League of Austin, and others.
The steering committee became convinced that the best procedure to follow was that of the "child guidance clinic" model which had been developing in increasing numbers since the early 1920's. Child Guidance Clinics, using diagnosis and treatment through the "teamwork approach" involving psychiatrists, social workers and psychologists, had as their mission the assessment and treatment of child and family emotional problems. A Board of Directors for such a clinic was established and in January, 1949 a charter was received. By November, 1951, private funds had been secured to open the Austin Child Guidance Center. The Center was to serve emotionally disturbed children up to 18 years of age and their families in Austin and Travis County.
From 1951 to 1967, the Center devoted the great majority of its time to providing high quality diagnostic and treatment services to the children of Austin. It was during this time period that the Center brought to Austin the first child psychiatrist and pioneered the establishment of a day school for children too emotionally disturbed to be in a regular school setting. In 1967, the Center entered into a contractual agreement with Austin Travis County MH-MR to provide that entity with their children’s mental health services. In late 1972 at the urging of Austin Travis County MH-MR ACGC deployed its personnel into the several Austin Travis County MH-MR Centers which were established to decentralize mental health services throughout the community. While the concept of more easily accessible service was viewed as important, the ACGC Board was concerned with the potential decrease in quality of service delivered to the child and adolescent client. As a result, the contractual relationship between ACGC and MH-MR ceased in 1975 and the Child Guidance Center began independent operations in a new location on September 1, 1975. In 1976 the Center was the first mental health agency in the area to develop services to deal specifically with children who had been sexually abused.
In 1981, the Center began its highly successful Peer Assistance and Leadership (PAL) program in the Austin Independent School District, through which junior high children at risk of substance abuse were matched with senior high role models. This program became so successful and cost-effective that in 1989 the PAL concept was taken statewide as part of the Worker's Assistance Program of Texas, a statewide organization active in the field of substance abuse prevention. In 1982, the Austin Evaluation Center officially became a part of the Austin Child Guidance Center. The Austin Evaluation Center had been founded in 1965 to provide the community with in-depth, multidisciplinary diagnostic services for children suspected of having developmental delay problems or learning disabilities. Children were provided a comprehensive evaluation in an attempt to provide a definitive diagnosis.
From 1982 through 1985, the Center continued to emphasize its commitment to the community and quality of care. An annual Children's Mental Health Seminar was begun in which outstanding speakers are invited to give presentations regarding the latest mental health prevention and treatment methods. During this time, the Center also began to annually recognize an outstanding local citizen for their contribution to children's mental health with the presentation of the Christine Anderson Children’s Service Award. Dr. Anderson was a former member of the Board of Directors who was tragically killed at the age of 29 in an automobile accident in 1982.
In 1986 the Center received accreditation from the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Hospitals (now called the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations). This voluntary national accreditation reflected the commitment of the Center to evaluate and improve services as well as our dedication to improving the quality of client care. The Center has been continually accredited since that time.
In June 1985, efforts by the Center's Board of Directors and Representatives Lena Guerrero and Bob Richardson, and Senator Gonzalo Barrientos, resulted in the Texas Legislature's passing of House Bill 1973 directing the Texas Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation to lease 3.5 acres of land north of 45th Street to the Center at $1.00 per year for 25 years. The bill also provided an option for the Center to renew the lease as long as the land is used for the treatment of children's mental health. The Board and staff of the Center raised over $600,000 towards the cost of building a new structure on the leased land. Begun in January of 1988, the 9,000 square foot building was completed for occupancy in August of that year.
During the 1990’s a number of programs were established off site, and through numerous collaborations we delivered services at various schools and at the Gardner-Betts Juvenile Justice Center.
In 2001 the Center celebrated its 50th anniversary in delivering mental health services to the community. At that time we estimated that in the past 50 years more than 100,000 children and family members have received treatment and trained more than 500 mental health professionals pursuing master and doctorate degrees in mental health counseling. As part of our 50th anniversary celebration we brought to the community the nationally touring New York University Child Study Center art exhibit “Childhood Revealed: Art Expressing Pain, Discovery and Hope”. The exhibit consisted of 102 paintings and sculpture, each accompanied by the child’s commentary in English and Spanish. The art featured in this exhibit provided a window into the lives of youngsters who have a mental disorder or have an emotional reaction to a difficult life circumstance. As a concluding celebration to our 50th anniversary an open house was held in which nearly $10,000 was raised to establish an endowment for the Center at the Austin Community Foundation.
In 2003 the Center published its first book titled Principles of Good Parenting: A Handbook for Bringing up Mentally Healthy and Happy Children. This book was authored by Louise K. Iscoe in which the author interviewed the clinical staff and Board members with clinical backgrounds to produce an easy to read, user friendly basic guide to parenting. In 2004 the agency made a commitment to increase its capacity to increase the donations received form individuals and foundations. Through the efforts of Board and staff $46,245 was raised in local support and we secured a $135,000 grant from The Meadows Foundation in order to hire ACGC’s first full-time director of development.
In 2005, Austin Child Guidance Center was selected to be the beneficiary of the Austin American-Statesman Junior ‘Dillo Kids 1-Mile Run, an event which is held in conjunction with the Capitol 10,000. In addition, Austin Child Guidance Center was one of ten Austin area nonprofits selected by Austin Community Foundation for the Non-Profit Endowment Initiative. Through this initiative, Austin Child Guidance Center received a 1:4 match of up to $5,000 annually. At the end of the campaign in 2010, the Center met the goals, increasing the endowment fund by $105,000.
ACGC joined as a partner in the local school district’s Austin Community Collaboration Ensuring Student Success (ACCESS) project in 2007, funded by the United States Department of Education. As part of this collaboration, the Center provides the nationally recognized, intensive Parenting With Love & Limits program for middle and high school students, and their families, who have multiple behavioral concerns and stressors.
And in 2010, ACGC’s long-time Executive Director, Don Zappone, retired after 30 years of service to the Austin community. ACGC hired Russell Smith, LMSW as its new Executive Director. Russell has over 20 years experience leading non-profits in Austin and Houston, and is the grandson of Bert Kruger Smith, an Austin icon who was a champion for mental health care and for the elderly.
ACGC celebrated its 60th anniversary of service to Central Texas in October 2011.