The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities is grateful to Seneca Family of Agencies for participating and the Kresge Foundation, which provided a generous grant to support the work of the Center for Engagement and Neighborhood Building. The views expressed in this report are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the view of the Foundation.

The Alliance is a national organization dedicated to achieving our vision of a healthy and equitable society. The Alliance works for systemic change by harnessing the collective power of its network of hundreds of nonprofit human-serving organizations across North America as they translate knowledge into best practices that improve their communities. Working with and through its member network on leadership, innovation, and advocacy, the Alliance strives to achieve high impact by reducing the number of people living in poverty, increasing the number of people with opportunities to live healthy lives, and increasing the number of people with access to educational and employment success.

The Kresge Foundation is a $3.6 billion private, national foundation that works to expand opportunities in America’s cities through grant-making and social investing in arts and culture, education, environment, health, human services, and community development in Detroit. In 2015, the Board of Trustees approved 370 grants totaling $125.2 million, and nine social investment commitments totaling $20.3 million. For more information, visit

Seneca Family of Agencies, based in California, is an innovative leader in the provision of unconditional care through a comprehensive continuum of school, community-based and family-focused treatment services for children and families who have experienced high levels of trauma and are at risk for family disruption or institutional placement of the children.


Through a series of organizational profiles, we will explore engagement practices being applied by organizations across the spectrum of human services that translate to meaningful results in health and well-being, equity, and safety and security for families and communities. The Alliance defines engagement practices as the approaches, methodologies, and strategies employed by professionals and organizations that empower people to access and experience their inherent strengths and gifts, in order to fully participate and contribute to society. 


Seneca Family of Agencies is an innovative leader in its approaches to engagement as a behavioral health organization. Starting with humble beginnings and, over time, recognizing the immense need for its services, the organization has experienced opportunities for internal growth and evaluation and continues to strengthen its role as a strong external partner. The person-centered engagement approaches to all components of its work has allowed Seneca to enhance its impact for youth and families and address root causes of systemic injustices.

Topics covered in this case study:

  • History of Seneca Family of Agencies
  • Effective engagement in clinical treatment settings
  • Enhancing internal organizational culture
  • Engagement and equity in hiring and retention practices
  • Unconditional Education model
  • Addressing racial disproportionality in school discipline

The concept of engagement is broadly used across many fields. While it fits naturally within the community building field, mental and behavioral health organizations are also largely embracing engagement as a critical aspect of effective service provision. This shift is due to an increased focus on person-centered approaches and recognition that there are countless factors influencing the environment in which individuals and families live that affect their ability to reach their full potential. Establishing engagement is a key piece of maximizing outcomes for youth and families.

The following case study features Seneca Family of Agencies, a child-serving nonprofit based in Oakland, California. This story is the last in the Engagement in Action series from the Center for Engagement and Neighborhood Building at the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, and it showcases what a mental/behavioral health organization can look like when it uses engagement as a core value across all organizational practices. This profile highlights the organization’s history and the importance of engagement philosophies in clinical settings. It also shows how Seneca has built its organizational culture to optimizing engagement. Finally, it highlights one of the organization’s community-based program models, Unconditional Education, which uses engagement as the driver in maximizing student outcomes, enhancing school culture and climate, and promoting educational equity.

By using an engagement lens when reviewing the organization’s trajectory, we can see that Seneca has shifted from focusing only on service provision, to focusing on the organization’s internal systems and culture, as well as larger economic and social structures that allow inequitable situations to persist for children and families. As Seneca has infused engagement practices throughout the organization, the agency has also gained an increased ability to positively impact children and families and the systems that shape their lives.

Download Engagement Profile