News & Events


Studio40 Live Interview

Gary Gelfand, Ebony Chambers, Scott Moak

Watch our very own Chief Family and Youth Partnership Officer, Ebony Chambers, chat with Gary Gelfand and Scott Moak of Studio40 Live. They discuss our Mission, Giving Tuesday, and the importance of supporting local foster youth during the holiday season.


Stanford Sierra Youth & Families Welcomes Ontson Placide as New Chief Program Officer

Photo of Ontson Placide, LMFT

After an extensive search and a multi-step application and interview process, Stanford Sierra Youth & Families is thrilled to announce that it has hired a Chief Program Officer (CPO). Ontson Placide, LMFT will serve as our agency’s newly appointed CPO and will oversee programs and services across the region, supporting clinical and program directors. 

Ontson has demonstrated that he is a catalyst for positive change within the Los Angeles community for over 30 years and brings a wealth of knowledge regarding operational excellence in public and private/non-profit community agencies. He has an unwavering commitment to provide innovative services for youth and families, in particular, for the most vulnerable at-risk youth/families in the foster care and juvenile justice systems. He strongly values the voice of the young people and their families.

Ontson brings with him the experience of being the Senior Administrator at one of California’s largest behavioral health services organization, Stars Behavioral Health Group/Star View Children & Family Services, overseeing 160+ staff in a $22 Million per year division with oversight of many types of programs and funding sources. Ontson also brings his experience as the Chief Operating Officer with Fred Jefferson Memorial Homes/FFA/Adoptions, where his focus was to expand their services in response to the California’s Continuum of Care Reform (CCR) initiative.  Ontson will be coming to Stanford Sierra Youth & Families from his most recent position as the Clinical Program Manager II/Program Head for LA County DMH, in one of the largest directly operated clinics in Los Angeles County.

Ontson has vast experience in both public and non-profit administration and business functions as well as clinical services, management, and best practices which include, but are not limited to the list below.

  • Organizational/strategic Planning 
  • Administrative oversight and program development
  • Start-up and implementation of various complex programs and payment models/delivery systems
  • Advanced funding stream oversight
  • Strong total quality management/continuous quality improvement acumen
  • Experience with Evidence Based Practices (EBPs) and quality service implementation
  • Senior leadership experience in training and staff development
  • Cultural diversity, equity, and inclusion presenter/trainer

Please join us in welcoming Ontson to Stanford Sierra Youth & Families, and to Northern California.


Celebrating 120 Years of Empowering Youth

Photo of CEO Dr. Laura Heintz

Celebrating their 120th anniversary, Stanford Sierra Youth & Families (SSYF) provides a continuum of care to empower youth and families to overcome challenges together, as well as connects youth in foster care to the permanent loving families they need and deserve. SSYF annually serves 4,500 youth and their families throughout 17 Northern California counties.

SSYF was originally founded in 1900 and has remained committed to helping vulnerable children and families since inception. Throughout the years, the organization has transformed from an orphanage to a community based organization focused on ensuring every young person has a family and the tools to overcome their challenges, so they can become healthy, happy, and successful.  

With the merger in 2019, Stanford Youth Solutions and Sierra Forever Families became SSYF which offers greater depth of services, staff, resources, and expertise. Uniquely designed programs help end the child welfare cycle by keeping children safe and together with family, in school and out of trouble. Services include family stabilization, behavioral and mental health services, juvenile justice intervention, foster care and pre- and post-adoption support.  “Over the years, our organization has continuously evolved to meet the needs of youth and families. What hasn’t changed is our determination to help youth overcome obstacles, develop life skills, and grow into self-sufficient adults. We support the entire family with professional treatment and compassionate care, so every youth has the opportunity to thrive”, says Dr. Laura Heintz, CEO.

SSYF looks forward to many more years of continuing to fulfill the organization’s vision of communities with safe, lifelong connections for all young people, built and strengthened through generations of empowered families.

Thank you to our community Partner, Comstock’s Magazine for helping us highlight this momentous occasion in their December edition!



Stronger Together: Stanford Youth Solutions and Sierra Forever Families Merger
A commitment to permanency and the empowerment of youth and families

It is with great excitement that Sierra Forever Families (SFF) and Stanford Youth Solutions (SYS) announce the merging of the two organizations, effective July 1, 2019. SFF and SYS have complementary missions and operations and have an extensive history of collaborating to provide services and supports to youth and families.


Derby Day 2018

We were so grateful to have been a part of Derby Day 2018!

Derby Day was held May 5th, 2018 at Lucchetti Ranch in Wilton, CA. It was a daylong event that blended horse racing and supporting local children in need. The festivities included cuisine from hot local restaurants, Mint Julep Bar (of course!), wine and beer tasting, equestrian demonstrations, live music, barn tours, Weiner Dog Race, Derby Hat Contest, Bow Tie Contest, equestrian art, raffles, silent and live auctions and the high point of the day: the live televised running of the 144th Kentucky Derby!

Proceeds from Derby Day will support 7 local charities, including Stanford Youth Solutions!

A big thank you to everyone who made this event possible!


For more info on this event click here


Our CEO selected for Sacramento Kings/Walmart Community Playmaker Award
Congrats, Laura!

Congratulations to our CEO, Laura Heintz, who was selected to receive the Sacramento Kings/Walmart Community Playmaker award at Friday’s game on court about 6:35-6:45. The Sacramento Kings partner with Walmart through the Walmart Community Playmaker program to recognize individuals that demonstrate an ongoing commitment to their community.

Kings Note: Laura was nominated to receive this award and be recognized for being the embodiment of leadership as the CEO at Stanford Youth Solutions. Under her oversight, Stanford Youth Solutions’ programs have been heralded for producing positive outcomes and the ability to connect youth to safe, permanent and stable families. Through her work and work of Stanford Youth Solutions, our community is ultimately stronger.


Grant awarded from Teichert Foundation!
Thank you Teichert Foundation for supporting our Resilience Leadership Academy!

We are extremely grateful to the Teichert Foundation for awarding a generous grant in support of our Resilience Leadership Academy. The Teichert Foundation’s grant will help provide leadership and life skill development opportunities for our young people who have faced challenges such as poverty, abuse, domestic violence, and/or trauma. Ultimately, the partnership will empower and equip these resilient youth with the support, skills, and resources needed to make the transition into a healthy and self-sufficient adulthood. Thank you, Teichert Foundation for investing in building brighter futures for our youth – the next generation of leaders in our community!


We have a new website!! Bringing Home Within Reach
Our new website redesign helps families in crisis

A huge thank you to Digital Deployment for our beautiful, newly designed website! “Home Within Reach”

Check out this article from Digital Deployment about the new website design:

“Stanford Youth Solutions is dedicated to helping families in crisis situations and empowering them to overcome obstacles. Specifically, the organization provides behavioral and mental health services for at-risk youth to help families stay together, or in some cases, help a youth find a new permanent home.

Their organization stands apart from its peers because of a highly professional, disciplined, and evidence-based approach, as well as its commitment to empowering staff with both technology and training. This was something we were able to experience first-hand when we attended their annual open house event. Seeing the staff speak passionately about each of their programs set the tone for this beautiful, impactful new website.

The work they do inspires us. So, when they recently reached out for a mobile-first, responsive redesign of their website, we couldn’t wait to make it happen!”

Read more here


Stronger Together: Stanford Youth Solutions and Sierra Forever Families Merger
October 9, 2019

Two women walking together

A commitment to permanency and the empowerment of youth and families.

It is with great excitement that Sierra Forever Families (SFF) and Stanford Youth Solutions (SYS) announce the merging of the two organizations, effective July 1, 2019. SFF and SYS have complementary missions and operations and have an extensive history of collaborating to provide services and supports to youth and families.


Adoption Myths
June 4, 2019

Father and child watching the surf

Like most aspects of life related to family and children, adoption is an emotional topic. That might be why foster-care adoption is so ripe for myth-making. At Sierra Forever Families (SFF), would-be parents often approach us with ideas that couldn’t be further from the truth. Let’s clear up four common ones:


A gloriously sunny spring day picnic
May 23, 2019

Family together outside

A gloriously sunny spring day, scented with the unmistakable fragrance of cotton candy, set the stage for nearly 200 parents and children to enjoy a day of fun and companionship at Sierra Forever Families’ Family Appreciation Picnic on May 4 at Johnson-Springview Park in Rocklin.


California’s first-ever surgeon general prioritizes children’s health
April 30, 2019

Child holding stuffed toy

February/March of 2017, in a two-part series on how trauma affects children, this blog highlighted a 16-minute talk by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris that has been viewed on YouTube 1.8 million times.

Dr. Burke Harris, a pediatrician trained at the UC Davis School of Medicine, has been hailed as a leading voice in transforming our understanding of how children’s traumatic experiences can trigger serious physical and mental illness.


3 Empowering Reasons to Foster/Adopt as a Single Parent
April 16, 2019

Child smiling at parent

There’s a myth out there that to adopt or care for a foster child, your family needs to resemble something out of an ancient sitcom: one mom in an apron, one dad in a business suit. This is, indeed, a myth. At Sierra Forever Families, we strongly encourage single parents to explore foster care and adoption. In fact, nearly a quarter of adoptions are by single parents.


You Never Outgrow the Need for a Family
March 13, 2019

Smiling teenager

There’s a tongue-in-cheek poster that’s a classic fixture on the wall at some adoption agencies. It lists the advantages of giving a permanent home to a teenager. Number one is “No diapers!” Another benefit: “No toilet training.”

Clearly, these comments are meant to bring a smile to the face of prospective parents. But they also have a serious intent: to shine a light on the critical need for families to adopt older children and provide them with life-changing unconditional love, safety and support.


Navigating the Bureaucracy of Adoption and Foster Care
March 8, 2019

Woman and child smiling together

Anyone who has ever waited for their number to be called at the DMV knows that bureaucracy can be crazy-making. Paperwork, meetings, complex chains of command, endless acronyms (CPS? EPSDT?), communication breakdowns—all of it can make impatience flare. When a child’s future is at stake, it can be even more frustrating.

Welcome to foster care and adopting through the foster care system!


Instant Family, Hollywood’s Portrayal of Life as a Foster/Adoptive Parent, Rings True
December 4, 2018

Promotional image for Instant Family

Luckily for Sierra Forever Families, there is a new tool in town that can help tell our story of love and compassion, second chances and the trials and tribulations of adoption. It’s a recently released movie showing at theaters near you called Instant Family. The delightful romp follows a family through the foster- to-adoption process with a clear message: all kids need and deserve parents who love them.


Trusting the Process: How To Stay Positive While Being Patient
November 13, 2018


Every time you think about it, you get excited. A wonderful child, in need of a home, running into your arms, completing your long-held wish of having the family you’ve always wanted. Now you want to make that dream into reality and you have just begun doing research on the foster to adoption process. After a couple of web searches, you start second-guessing your excitement because you keep reading that the process is intense and can take a long time.

Don’t be discouraged. We are here to support you.


The Attachment Journey: Building trust and connection takes time
October 23, 2018

Parent holding child's hand

Congratulations! You are beaming with joy because your home is ready to be filled with more laughter and love with the addition of a new child. You have made the decision to learn more about the foster to adoption process and becoming a resource parent for our children in care.   The thought of connecting with a new child is exciting but getting used to the time it takes to build that lasting bond can be a little bit challenging. Don’t worry. You have the starting foundation of love, and that sprinkled with patience and flexibility, make for a great resource parent. Our families learn there is so much you can do to help spark that healthy trust between you and your new child.


After eight homes, the ninth one was the lucky charm!
August 23, 2018

Children playing soccer

Mark and Rebecca met and fell in love while working together as elementary school teachers. As they began to discuss marriage and a life together, Rebecca made it clear to Mark that even though she loved children, she did not see the necessity in having a child when so many children already exist who need loving families. Mark felt a strong urge to be a parent. Thanks to sympathetic adults and a resilient spirit, he had survived a chaotic, neglectful childhood. He wanted to pay it forward. After much discussion, they married with the eventual goal of providing a loving home to children through adoption.


First Steps of Adoption
August 2, 2018

Siblings smiling together

You have been thinking about this for a while. You have a successful career, a great home, and are now ready to start a family or grow the one you have through adoption. You either know someone who has gone through the process or you have always wondered whether adoption is a right fit for your family. Don’t worry. You are not alone.


The Honeymoon is Over
July 26, 2018

Father and son playing

Our son first came to live with us as a foster child in the Fall of 2015, at the age of six. In the Fall of 2016, we adopted him. As they say, the honeymoon is over. I couldn’t find the origin of that idiom but it refers to the easy time someone has after a new, and often exciting event occurs. A new job, getting married, bringing home a new child…


Wonder Firsts: Priceless
July 12, 2018

Girl with dolphin

The definition of wonder is the feeling of awe, surprise, or admiration—to marvel. We here at the Wonder Program ask that our Guides (mentors) create the feeling of wonder for their Explorers (foster youth mentee) by exposing them to “firsts”. A first could be experiencing something like riding a bike, fishing, or a roller coaster for the first time.


Serious Fun in Nevada County
July 5, 2018

Young person at the 49er Fun Parkk

Excuse our glow, but we’re basking in the success of an event, held recently on Tuesday, June 26, that brought together more than 200 members of Nevada County families formed through adoption. It was an epic gathering but, most importantly, it was a valuable reminder of how much success in foster/adoption depends on the pure pleasure of community connections.


Good Enough
June 18, 2018

A mother and daughter sitting and smiling together

Deciding to adopt my children was easy for me.  I have mothered everything around me (plants, animals, other people…) since I was three years old.  I knew from a young age that my family would be formed by adoption.  I was thrilled when my husband and I were ready to begin the adoption adventure.


Does birth order make a difference in adoption?
June 1, 2018

Children playing

Adding to your family by way of foster/adoption offers some options that aren’t part of the equation when you’re growing your family by giving birth.

Foster/adoption lets you add a child to your family without regard for birth order. When a child doesn’t enter the family as the youngest child—as a new baby would–that is known as “disrupting” birth order.