Sai-Ling Chan-Sew

Strong advocate for underserved children with behavioral health issues and innovative developer culturally-appropriate programs

Sai-Ling Chu Chan-Sew was born in China and grew up in Hong Kong. She received her MSW from the University of Chicago in Social Work Administration in 1973. She began her career as a Psychiatric Social Worker for Northeast Community Mental Health Services in San Francisco before becoming the Program Director of the Chinatown Child Development Center, Community Mental Health Services, Department of Public Health, City and County of San Francisco. In this position from 1979 to 1993, she implemented community based outpatient services and early intervention programs for recent Asian immigrants to the United States. She was a founding member of the Association for the Rights and Responsibilities of Children and Families formed in 1977 to address the need for adequate child care and family resources in San Francisco’s Chinatown. That organization later became Wu Yee Children’s Services, which currently serves over 200 children at five childcare centers and responds to over 1,000 resource and referral requests each year.

In 1995 she became the Director of the Child, Youth and Family System of Care, Community Behavioral Health Services, in the San Francisco Department of Public Health. A strong advocate for disadvantaged and vulnerable children and youth and their families, she was a significant contributor to the development of a system of care to reduce the risk of emotional problems in children and their families. In the City and County of San Francisco, she forged partnerships and collaborations with both public and private child-serving agencies, integrating services to children and youth from the Human Service Agency, Juvenile Probation, San Francisco Unified School District, Edgewood Center for Children and Families, Seneca Center, Department of Children, Youth and Families, and others, into the nationally recognized San Francisco Children’s System of Care (CSOC).

Chan-Sew initiated a number of programs of particular significance: School-based Mental Health Partnership Program; Foster Care/Mental Health Program; The Kinship Care Program; The Family Mosaic Project and Wraparound Services; The Family Involvement Team; The Early Childhood Mental Health Consultation Initiative; The Starting Points Initiative; Youth Mental Health Court and Youth Drug Court School; Therapeutic Visitation Program; Comprehensive Child Crisis Program; and Integration of Primary Care and Behavioral Health Care Program.

Additionally, Chan-Sew has been active at the national and state levels promoting the development of prevention and early intervention services especially for young children. She was selected to chair a San Francisco committee that developed a model crisis response protocol between the Public Health and Police Departments that has increased access to behavioral health services for families affected by violence.

Often sought out as a presenter at state and national conferences, Chan-Sew was also a lecturer at the Graduate School of Social Work at San Francisco State University from 1990-1995 and an instructor at the University of California Extension from 1995 – 1996.

Recognized as a mentor and role model, she inspires others and has the rare ability to be both an exemplary manager and a visionary leader. Chan-Sew retired in 2011 after serving the City and County of San Francisco for 35 years. In her retirement, she has been providing consultation to community-based programs, health centers, county government, and foundations.

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