Grantee Interview Series: Diane Flannery, UCLA Family Commons

Feb 8, 2010, 4:12 AM, Posted by RWJF Blog Team

Last month we talked about the UCLA Family Commons, a Pioneer funded project that uses a retail-based model to deliver behavioral health prevention and early intervention services to families.  Last Thursday, UCLA Family Commons officially opened to the community.  

We asked Diane Flannery, director and co-founder of The UCLA Family Commons and the Global Center for Children and Families, to discuss her work and motivation for launching the project. 

Describe the work Pioneer is supporting you to do.

With the support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer portfolio, we are launching our first family coaching clinic in Santa Monica, California. Called The UCLA Family Commons, it offers an inviting space, in a convenient retail neighborhood, that inspires families to reach their highest level of well-being.

We see this as a new model of consumer-centered mental health care that gives families the tools they need to become agents of their own well-being. All of our products and services are based on the highest quality research about what promotes healthy child development, and they are delivered in ways that are fun, engaging, and easy to incorporate into family’s busy lives.

How will your work transform the future of health or health care?

We believe our model has the potential to become a disruptive innovation that transforms treatment and delivery systems for common childhood problems. We aim to shift public perceptions about the role of prevention and early intervention in mental health care and the role families play in promoting and sustaining their own well-being.

Our long-term vision is to bring this model to scale in a way that makes prevention and early intervention for mental and physical well-being accessible to families throughout California and, ultimately, the U.S. Whether it’s through a nationwide network of family coaching clinics – similar to the Minute Clinics or other retail-based health clinics – or through a line of appealing, evidence-based family coaching products that could be found in every Wal-Mart or Target, we want every family to have easy access to tools they can use to reach their highest level of well-being.

Why does it fit within the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Pioneer portfolio? How is it “pioneering”?

Our model is based on three key features:

1) affordable, action-oriented coaching that gives families the tools they need to address common family challenges and normal developmental issues;

2) convenient, inviting neighborhood locations that make services easily accessible and reduce the stigma sometimes associated with mental health care; and

3) a science-based model that offers families reliable information and proven techniques to change their behaviors and take charge of their health.

What inspires you to pursue your work? Your own personal curiosity? Your desire to improve health or health care? Something else?

My work has two primary sources of inspiration:

1) From working at the UCLA Semel Institute Global Center for Children and Families, I have seen firsthand how much wonderful research is available to assist families in creating healthy lifestyles that give children the strongest foundation for the future. I have also seen that too much of this research fails to reach the wide public audience that it deserves.

2) I am an entrepreneur at heart, and I get excited by developing creative methods to deliver information or services. As a parent myself, I have firsthand experience of the need for a place like The UCLA Family Commons. To be able to have easy access to reliable information that will help me create a life of wellness for my daughter and myself is no small thing. And to be able to get this information, and participate in these activities, in a community of like-minded people, makes an enormous difference in being able to live the healthiest life I can.

Have you encountered any unexpected lessons learned or ideas during the course of your funded project that has changed the way you think about it?

Creating The UCLA Family Commons took over five years, from the time we first started working on it. Over those years, we encountered a wide variety of barriers and setbacks – some expected, some not. There were even times when it seemed easier to give up the idea altogether. But we chose to pursue it, and we continued to bring in new people and to seek ideas and information from a multitude of sources. In the course of this work, the idea continued to evolve, to unfold in ways that were different – and often better – than what we’d originally imagined.

I see this as directly parallel to the way we encourage families to work toward building healthier lifestyles. It’s rarely easy to change your behavior, but if you start small, stick with it, are willing to let it look somewhat different than you’d originally envisioned, and find a community of people who want the same things, you will succeed.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.