California Mental Health Advocacy for Children and Youth (CMHACY) is a diverse association of passionate stakeholders who advance the social, emotional, and behavioral well-being of children and families and promote inclusion, racial equity, and social justice for all. Comprised of parents, youth, public and private sector providers, educators, County agency leaders, state department officials, policymakers, and professional advocates, CMHACY convenes, educates, and advocates.

Our “signature event” is the annual conference held on the picturesque Asilomar Conference grounds in Pacific Grove. Unique in the country and attended by as many as 600 stakeholders, the conference has provided a forum for policy development, spawned collaboration and partnerships among counties and providers, incubated state-wide parent and youth organizations, hosted nationally recognized speakers, and showcased cutting-edge clinical advances in work with youth and families.

The conference’s unique, “rustic” culture encourages informal interaction among consumers, providers, policymakers, and advocates. It is the “go-to” conference in California for all those interested in behavioral health services for children, youth, and their families.

room with chairs


In 1980 Dr. Betsy Burke, the Director of Children and Family Services in the California Department of Mental Health, invited Children’s Coordinators from Mental Health Departments in all 58 Counties to a convening at the Asilomar Conference Center in Pacific Grove, California.  The intent of the convening was to share experiences and discuss ways to increase high-quality services to children, youth, and their families.  Attended by about 20 County Children’s Coordinators, the group decided to meet again and develop a more robust agenda with formal presentations characterized by healthy interaction and focused on effective services and local strategies for enhancing resources for children, youth, and families.

In 1984 the group decided to incorporate as a separate not-for-profit organization and drafted a constitution with the following primary two purposes.

  1. Promote the mental health of children and youth and foster effective mental health services to children and youth in their homes and within the public and private agencies, schools, and institutions that serve them,
  2. Render assistance to mental health and children and youth services professionals, to governmental and private agencies, and to the general public in understanding the nature of mental health services to children and youth.

In May of 1985, CMHACY received its formal Federal Determination Letter approving its request for nonprofit status.

In the early years as the conference grew, Directors of County Mental Health Departments, state officials, and key legislative staff began to attend the conference and discuss public policy fixes to children’s mental health.  In the mid-1980s the conference through word-of-mouth opened its doors to private providers.  Several years later parents of children needing mental health services were also encouraged to attend.  They used the conference to form a state-wide parent association supported by the state Department of Mental Health.  It was one of the first consumer-led organizations in the country to focus on children’s mental health services.

A decade later the conference invited youth and supported the creation of a state-wide youth organization.

Over the years CMHACY has seeded key public policy initiatives and has served as a safe place offering opportunities for stakeholders to share groundbreaking methods of successfully implementing these system change efforts.

Watch this space for an accounting of each significant public policy initiative and its connection to CMHACY.