For 70 years, Austin Child Guidance Center has worked towards a single purpose: Providing accessible, high-quality, team-based mental health therapy and care for children and families.
Today, Texas children need this help now more than ever.
Keep reading to learn more about our history. It might just inspire you to help more children thrive.
Prioritizing Mental Health for Children
While the importance of mental health care for children has grown over time, it wasn’t always that way.
The Mental Health Act of 1946 made the mental health of people a federal priority allocating funds to states for financing training programs, research in mental health, and the establishment of local community health programs.
In early 1949, a steering committee comprised of prominent Austin community members and organizations convened to assess local mental health needs, identify priorities and make a recommendation for the best way to address those needs locally. Their findings included:
- The need for mental health service on a broad community service level. However, mental health service for children was identified as a greater need.
- Local child-serving agencies were most vocal about the need for a highly professional referral source for children's mental health services.
- A multi-discipline approach consisting of child psychiatrist, clinical psychologist, and psychiatric social worker would be the most feasible structure for such an agency.
- A child psychiatrist would be the director of such an agency.
- The primary responsibility the agency would be the diagnosis and treatment of children's emotional problems, community consultation on children's emotional health needs, and training of mental health personnel.
The committee went on to adopt the "Child Guidance Clinic" model for this organization. Growing in popularity since the 1920's in primarily urban areas, this model focused on a team approach to care including a psychiatrist, psychiatric social worker, and psychologist in a team effort to meet the needs of children and families in Austin and Travis County.
This strong foundation of comprehensive care has remained the bedrock of Austin Child Guidance Center (ACGC) since it officially opened its doors in September 1951.
The Early Years
From 1951 to 1967, ACGC focused on offering high quality diagnostic and treatment services to the children of Austin. In addition to bringing the first child psychiatrist to Austin in 1951, ACGC began to offer client services and consultations to other community agencies, training professional workers and education in mental health to the community.
- 1950’s - ACGC established a day school for children considered too emotionally disturbed to be in a traditional school setting. Eventually, this model was adapted for use in the Austin Independent School District.
- 1967 - ACGC entered a contractual agreement with the Mental Health Mental Retardation Center (MHMR) of Austin-Travis County. This contractual relationship allowed ACGC to grow existing programs and develop and initiate new programs for children.
- 1972 - Austin Travis County MHMR partnered with ACGC to provide mental health services at several Austin Travis County MHMR Human Development Centers. While this model provided easily accessible service to the community, the concern for a decrease in quality services led to an end to the contractual agreement on August 31, 1975.
- 1975 - Austin Child Guidance Center began independent operations in a new location on September 1, 1975.
- 1976 - Austin Child Guidance Center became the first mental health agency in the area to offer services to children who had been sexually abused.
A Time of Growth
By the early 1980’s, Austin Child Guidance Center had expanded sufficiently offering diverse programs aimed at helping children meet the challenges of the time.
- 1981 - ACGC launched a Peer Assistance and Leadership (PAL) program in the Austin Independent School District. This mentorship program paired junior high children at high risk of substance abuse with senior high role models.
- 1986 - ACGC received accreditation from the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Hospitals (now called the Joint Commission). This voluntary accreditation reflects the commitment of ACGC to evaluate and improve services as well as our dedication to improving the quality of client care.
- 1988 - Austin Child Guidance Center completed a 9,000 square foot building project that includes a conference room, administrative offices, individual and group therapy rooms; and a waiting room/play area for clients and their families. This location at 45th and Lamar remains the home of ACGC to this day.
- 1989 - the PAL model became so successful that the Worker's Assistance Program of Texas, a statewide organization active in the field of substance abuse prevention, adopted this program for use in communities throughout Texas.
- 1990's - ACGC increased focus on expanding off site services with community entities including schools and the Gardner-Betts Juvenile Justice Center.
Meeting the Needs of the New Millennium
With the new century, ACGC expanded our capacity to include specialized services to infants, toddlers, parents, and childcare workers in local child development centers; evacuees of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita; crime victims and their family members; and children whose parents are going through difficult family litigation and divorce.
- 2000 – ACGC expanded to offer a psychological services unit capable of neuropsychological testing, testing of autism-spectrum disorders, and assessment of learning disorders such as dyslexia.
- 2001 - Austin Child Guidance Center celebrated our 50th anniversary.
Included in the celebration plans, ACGC hosted the New York University Child Study Center art exhibit “Childhood Revealed: Art Expressing Pain, Discovery and Hope” as part of their national tour. This exhibit consisted of 102 paintings and sculptures created by children and offered a window into the lives of youngsters who have a mental disorder or have an emotional reaction to a difficult life circumstance. Each piece of art was accompanied by the child’s commentary in English and Spanish.
ACGC established an endowment with the Austin Community Foundation marking the 50th anniversary to ensure the long-term financial security of the organization.
- 2003 - ACGC 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 after interviewing the clinical staff and Board members with clinical backgrounds to produce an easy-to-read, user-friendly basic guide to parenting.
- 2007 – Partnering again with the Austin Independent School District and the U.S. Depart of Education, ACGC facilitated the nationally recognized, intensive Parenting with Love & Limits program for middle and high school students with multiple behavioral concerns and stressors, and their families.
- 2009 – ACGC was one of the first agencies in Central Texas to adopt a trauma-informed model of care. This approach to care reduces the change of children and families becoming re-victimized by focusing on safety, trustworthiness, collaboration, choice, empowerment, and cultural inclusivity.
- 2013 – True to ACGC’s commitment to professional training and evidence-based treatments, ACGC achieved certified trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT). TF-CBT is the most research-supported treatment for trauma for children six and older.
- 2013 – ACGC established the Trauma Informed Care Consortium of Central Texas (TICC) with funding from the St. David’s Foundation. This group of more than 100 community organizations met until mid-2022 to address the trauma needs of children and families.
- 2015 – ACGC began offering services to Spanish-speaking survivors of crime through a grant from the Texas Attorney General’s Office.
- 2017 – Bi-lingual Family Resource Navigation services were made available to provide case management needs to Spanish-Speaking children and their families.
2020: The COVID Era
March 2020 – Following the guidelines put in place by the City of Austin and State of Texas, ACGC closed the building and began the transition to providing teletherapy and remote services to children and their families. Within 2 weeks, our clients were meeting with therapists virtually.
June 2020 – Following a time of intense social unrest triggered by a series of violent racial incidents, ACGC launched an online series of panel discussions titled “Talking with Kids About Race and Racism.” These highly popular programs helped parents, guardians, and educators become better prepared to address mental health issues of children of all races and ages.