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Children's Institute, Inc.: History

Our History

Children’s Institute, Inc. (CII) serves Los Angeles’s most vulnerable children—those harmed by family and community violence, or coping with the challenges of poverty. Though CII’s focus has shifted and deepened over the years, the organization’s commitment to serving vulnerable children in the Los Angeles community has remained steadfast for more than a century.

Founded in 1906 by Minnie Barton, the city’s first female probation officer, the original organization (then named The Big Sister League) was designed to help troubled young women who found themselves adrift in Los Angeles. Minnie Barton established the Minnie Barton Home for these young women, and later, the Bide-A-Wee Home for unmarried pregnant women.

Changing social conditions in the 1960s and ‘70s meant that more young unmarried women were choosing to raise their children rather than opting to give them up for adoption. As a result, the League’s services were modified to meet the new need and the organization’s center-based and community-based child-care programs were launched.

When the serious problem of child abuse and neglect became prominent in the 1970s, the League responded by offering preventive child care and other services to at-risk children. The League’s name was changed in 1980 to Children’s Institute International (CII) to better describe this evolving mission. At that time, CII began receiving state funding to provide child abuse prevention, intervention and treatment services. The core elements of these programs—intensive psychotherapy, parent education groups, and in-home family support—continue today.

Over the past fifteen years, CII has expanded its scope and services—branching out to serve children and families affected by family and community violence, and implementing new model programs. In 2006, marking the organization’s 100th year, the agency’s name was changed to Children’s Institute, Inc. And in spring 2011, CII opened its new headquarters and third all-inclusive facility, the award-winning Otis Booth Campus. The Otis Booth Campus—a 48,000-square-foot LEED-Silver facility located just west of downtown Los Angeles— enables CII to reach over 5,000 children and family members each year with the agency’s unique blend of services, which includes evidence-based clinical services, youth development programs, early childhood programs, and family support.

Also in 2011, with funding from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation (EMCF), the federal Social Innovation Fund (SIF), and several other leading foundations, CII launched a 3-year, $10 million initiative to expand promising programs for high risk youth in Central and South Los Angeles. With the help of The Bridgespan Group (and funding from the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation), CII has developed a new Business Plan which lays out its vision for the next five years. The centerpiece of that vision is the replication of the CII Integrated Service Model—and the development of a new state-of-the-art facility—in the historic community of Watts.

Over the past 10 years, CII has tripled its operating budget to almost $60 million a year. It has also tripled the number of children and families served, now reaching more than 28,000 a year. This growth and record of success has earned CII a position of leadership among children’s service organizations locally and nationally, and has positioned the agency for the next century of service.

A Lifetime of Commitment:
For 35 years, Mary M. Emmons held the position of President and Chief Executive Officer at CII. Through her leadership, CII developed an extensive range of community-based child and family services, growing from an annual budget of $1 million per year in 1981 to a current budget of over $63 million. She has long been an advocate for vulnerable children and serves on numerous public policy boards and committees, including the Governor’s Child Development Programs Advisory Committee, and the Child Welfare League of America’s National Advisory Committee on Chemical Dependency and Child Welfare and their Management and Governance Standards Committee.

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