Morning Zen

Celebrating the Life of Randy Feltman

November 20, 2020

Randy Feltman, a champion, visionary, and social innovator of children’s mental health in California and the nation passed away November 1. His legacy is reflected in the many lives of children and families he positively changed.

His colleague Pat Jordan from Marin County believes his vision and advocacy elevated children’s mental health at both the state and county levels. According to Dr. Robert Friedman, Randy was one of the most important leaders in children’s mental health and systems of care within the past 40 years. Friedman stated that “whenever he spoke, his clarity, passion, and knowledge was enormously impressive, and his work helped shape the children’s mental health field in the entire country.”

A social worker by training, he served as the Children’s Coordinator of the Ventura County Behavioral Health Department in the 1980s and the Director of the Department in the early 1990s. Randy developed the Ventura Planning Model, designed to address the decline in local public mental health funding. Targeting high-cost, multi-agency involved children, it was one of the first county-based Children’s Systems of Care in the nation and became famously known as the Ventura Model. This integrated planning and care model resulted in substantial improvements in child behavior and family functioning, while also achieving significant cost offsets in other public agencies. In California, Randy’s efforts helped end children’s placement into state hospitals and unnecessary residential placements far from home.

Randy called his approach a “planning model” that allowed for collaborative local planning to support unique community characteristics and solutions rather than provide a cookie-cutter plan for a specific service. This approach empowered communities to create systems of care for children that fit local needs while still focusing on the goals of keeping kids in school, out of trouble, and staying at home. Communities used his Ventura Project throughout many states to shape their local services and policies.

Randy was a founder in 1980 of the California Mental Health Advocates for Children & Youth (CMHACY), a premier association of stakeholders including public sector administrators, state officials, educators, private providers, and parents and youth with lived experience. CMHACY celebrated its 40th anniversary in June. According to Dr. Steve Elson, Randy was a charismatic leader, loved by his colleagues throughout the state. His pioneering work and spirit live on.

According to Dr. Mario Hernandez, Randy always approached problems with fresh eyes. He could see practical solutions to tough social problems and always believed these solutions were as simple as getting people to collaborate locally. He always sustained a wonderful sense of humor, regardless of how dire the situation. He assumed that good was in all of us as well as the personal ability for each of us to improve our lives and the lives of others.

He retired in 1999 and moved to his beloved Lake Nacimiento home with his wife, Nancy. He and Nancy spent 16 years there, living happily and remaining engaged in their beautiful community. According to his son Bryan, he made many new friends at the lake, enjoying boat meet-ups and sitting on his balcony figuring out how to make someone’s life better. Bryan wants everyone to know that his dad cherished his friends and family and the time he spent with every one of them.

~ Mario Hernandez and Steve Elson ~

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