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USC Telehealth expands its services for families with special needs

The virtual program receives free professional therapy to caregivers with no access to other mental health services

USC Telehealth clinic
The USC Telehealth clinic helps clients via video conferences. (USC Photo/Brian Goodman)

On any given day at USC Telehealth, the phone will ring and a desperate parent of a child with special needs will reach out for help. They are trying to be the best caregivers they can to their son or daughter, but their resilience and resources have been stretched thin. They know they need someone to talk to, but publicly funded mental health care is geared toward the individual with special needs, leaving no supportive services for the overburdened caregiver.

Through a $100,000 grant from QueensCare, USC Telehealth, a virtual telemental health clinic housed at the USC School of Social Work with services throughout the state of California, will be able to expand a new program to serve low-income parents and caregivers of special-needs children or adult family members. Special needs can include autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD), learning difficulties, physical disability, developmental disability or emotional and behavioral difficulties.

This year, USC Telehealth provided 132 families with weekly therapy sessions for caregivers who were experiencing severe depression, anxiety, stress, marital conflict and financial difficulties. Funding from QueensCare will allow an additional 90 families with special needs in Los Angeles County to receive the supportive services they need. The USC Telehealth program is filling a critical gap in services by focusing on parents, family members and other caregivers who do not have access to any other mental health programs.

“Parents often confront multiple challenges, including caregiving demands, posed not only by their children with special needs, but also their aging grandparents and typical siblings,” said Nadia Islam, clinical director for USC Telehealth. “These challenges cut across socioeconomic, geographical and cultural boundaries.”

Private sessions

Advancements in federal-level encryption and HIPAA-compliant technology make it possible for a therapist and client to securely connect in a matter of seconds from the privacy and convenience of their own home or at a partner location for families that cannot afford a computer or Internet connection.

The program will provide access to mental health services for people who need it the most, free of charge.

Bianca Rodas

For QueensCare, the USC Telehealth program fits its philanthropic focus of supporting organizations that extend access to underserved populations.

“The program will provide access to mental health services for people who need it the most, free of charge,” said Bianca Rodas, communications manager for QueensCare. “The stigma surrounding mental health is still very present, and the opportunity to provide this type of care, in the comfort of one’s home, is an exciting way to work around that.”

Although QueensCare began funding mental health programs a few years ago, this is the first grant awarded for a telehealth program.

USC Telehealth will be offering this free professional therapy program to caregivers of individuals with special needs through June 30, 2016. It is actively promoted through regional centers, Special Education Local Plan Areas and the special education staff of local area schools. For more information, visit or call (866) 740-6502.

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USC Telehealth expands its services for families with special needs

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