SLO County is rolling out a unique program specifically designed to help Latina women who are the victims of domestic violence.
On March 21, the SLO County Board of Supervisors approved funding for that program. Called Colega (Spanish for “colleague”), it will allow the Women’s Shelter Program of SLO County to hold peer-led group treatment specifically for Latina women who are or have been the victims of domestic violence, and are in need of mental health services. The program will be run through a contract between the shelter and SLO County’s Behavioral Health Services Department.
“This project will help the county determine what level of lived experience is most effective when providing ‘peer services’ to clients, as determined by the clients themselves,” a county staff report on the program stated.
Under the program, the group sessions are led by a bilingual peer counselor. The counselors have a different level of life experience with domestic violence, including a Latina woman, a Latina woman with lived mental health experience, and a Latina woman with domestic violence and mental health experience.
“Stigma, culture, and lack of qualified bilingual, bicultural licensed professionals are all barriers for Latinos seeking mental health services,” the county’s contract with the Women’s Shelter stated. “This project answers the questions of whether offering peer services can increase the overall volume of Latino clients seeking mental health services … and if this new approach can reduce the stigma that is such a strong barrier to entry for so many.”
The groups run in 12-week cycles, and serve about 30 clients each, according to Kirsten Rambo, executive director for the Women’s Shelter. Rambo said the program would help a large number of the women her organization serves, noting that an estimated 50 percent of the women the shelter serves are Latina.
“We know that, in general, this can really be an underserved population,” Rambo said.
Language, stigma, and other barriers can compound the challenges of domestic violence victims. Rambo said the program would help her organization learn how it might be helpful to have those victims work with other women who have had similar experiences.
“It’s just another way to not only serve folks who are in need, but learn how we can improve those services,” Rambo said.
The program will run over the next three years. It will cost $125,000 for the first year, and $170,000 per year for the following two years. The money to fund the Colega program comes from tax revenue raised by the passage of Proposition 63 in 2004. The voter approved measure added a 1 percent tax on adjusted income of more than $1 million, with the proceeds to be used to address mental health needs in the state.
In the case of Colega, that money comes from Proposition 63 funding specifically set aside to pilot new and innovative programs that address the mental health challenges of a specific county. In order to qualify for the funding, a program must be novel and can’t be duplicated in another community, making Colega a program unique to SLO County.
Rambo said that her organization recently finished the first 12-week cycle and hopes to serve an estimated 360 clients and their children through the Colega program. While it is still early, Rambo said she has already seen some positive results, particularly from the mothers who have participated in the program.
“What we see is that, through this process, as the moms are building up their own resilience, they are doing things like going back to school or learning English,” Rambo said. “Once you address the trauma that these folks are facing … it creates the space and the ability to do these other things.”
Staff Writer Chris McGuinness can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @CWMcGuinness.