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One of Bill Wilson Center's guiding principles is Advocacy: We work on improving systems that do not meet youth or families' needs. The two systems that we have been focusing the most of our time advocating for over the years are foster care and juvenile justice.

Our CEO Sparky Harlan regularly meets with local, state and federal government officials to discuss issues related to youth in foster care and in the juvenile justice system, as well as homeless and runaway youth.

Homeless Youth


Bill Wilson Center, along with a handful of other local agencies, has partnered with the City of San Jose and the nonprofit homeless research specialist Applied Survey Research (ASR) to conduct a survey to gauge the number of homeless youth in San Jose. This effort is meant to address the argument that traditional surveys fail to identify an accurate count of this hard to measure population.

This citywide census helps achieve countywide goals by creating a baseline to measure progress in ending homelessness and helping to assess the next steps toward completing the 10 year plan to end homelessness in Santa Clara County.

Read more about this effort by clicking here.

Juvenile Justice


Bill Wilson Center has been working on the County level with the Juvenile Probation Department to support their efforts in keeping youth 13 years and under out of Juvenile Hall. Bill Wilson Center’s crisis residential program has been designated as an alternative for providing housing and services to this population pending adjudication. The Juvenile Probation Department has increased their efforts by obtaining a grant to do a thorough mental health assessment on these youth within 24 hours and utilizing MTFC (Multi-dimensional Treatment Foster Care), also a program of Bill Wilson Center and local wrap around service providers for those youth who can return home.

Bill Wilson Center is also working closely with Juvenile Probation and San Jose Police Department in diverting youth from further penetration into the juvenile justice system through our Restorative Justice Program and Direct Referral Program (DRP). DRP was established to provide services to youth 14 years and younger for first time offenses to prevent them from re-offending. Juvenile Probation is placing adjudicated youth into MTFC homes as an alternative to incarceration.

MTFC is an evidence based practice where certified foster parents with specialized training work with one child to receive treatment and intensive supervision at home, in school and in the community; clear and consistent limits with follow-through on consequences; positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior; a relationship with a mentoring adult; and separation from delinquent peers.

In working with police departments in Santa Clara, San Jose, Sunnyvale, and Mountain View, we have encouraged officers to bring youth who have committed minor offenses to Bill Wilson Center where we can work with the youth and his or her parents. We teach both parents and youth the consequences of breaking the law and provide the necessary services to the families to prevent an escalation of the criminal activity.

Children make mistakes. If we can get the right support to them, their chance of re-offending lessens. Often these kids have mental health issues, learning disabilities, or have substituted gang membership for dysfunctional families. If we can reach them before they become adults and have established patterns of criminal activity, we can change the direction of their lives!

For information on foster care and juvenile justice check out: