Our Founding Story: The Power of a Mother’s Love

Laura Heinz

Laura Heintz, founder of the Yolo Crisis Nursery

When Artie entered the foster care system in Yolo County, he was just 4 years old. Eleven years later, he asked a pivotal question:

“Why didn’t anyone help my mom when I was little? If someone had, maybe I could still be with her.”

Artie’s inquiry struck Laura Heintz, a program developer at child-services agency in Davis. She didn’t have an answer, yet the simplicity of what might have been for Artie cut her to the core, especially when, just a few months later, Laura held her own newborn and pondered how anyone so precious could be deprived of love and security.

Ironically, The California Endowment soon would fund crisis nursery expansion in the Sacramento region, as long as a willing community and host agency was found. Lois Wolk, then a Yolo County supervisor, connected the funds with the needs.

After her maternity leave, Heintz returned to a task that would alter the fates of many: Establish a nursery in Yolo County.

And she did.

Without question, Heintz is the mother of the Yolo Crisis Nursery and, by extension, protector of thousands of children and their families who have been served since the nursery’s doors were first opened in 2001.

Heintz developed a community-based vision for how the nursery would look, feel and operate — just like a home — a simple model with professional support for families. With no long-term funding stream, she built strong coalitions and persisted in uncharted regulatory waters.

According to Heintz, “At every turn, we found people who supported the nursery because they knew, first-hand, how difficult parenting can be under the best of circumstances. They understood how quickly a family might crumble without the basics, like safe shelter or reliable medical care. The nursery thrives because Yolo County is full of enlightened people.”

And leaders like Laura Heintz.

“I hope people respond to Artie’s wish, no matter whom he represents in their lives,” she said. “I’m so thankful for all the generous supporters of the nursery, but what matters most is when people give in a way that personally speaks to them. Compassionate hearts change the world.”

Meet the Nursery Staff

Heather Sleuter

Heather Sleuter, executive director of the Yolo Crisis Nursery

Heather Sleuter, Executive Director: Heather has been working with Children and Family Services for 20 years. She holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Services Management from the University of Phoenix and is working toward a Master’s degree in Marriage, Family, Therapy & Counseling. Heather maintains and operates the Crisis Nursery according to contract and funding agreements. She provides guidance to direct line staff at all times. Heather trains all assigned staff on licensing and agency guidelines, policy and procedures, and program protocol. And she is very good at her job: She has won many awards, most recently the Rotary Club’s “Heart Award” 2015.

Lisa Young, Family Facilitator: Lisa graduated from California State University, Sacramento with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Child Development and Family Studies, and a Master of Arts in Management. She is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Education. At the Nursery, Lisa facilitates development of individualized services for children and families, and ensures that parents have a voice, a choice and access to the resources they need for themselves and their family. She provides a leadership role in linking parents, children, and staff when a crisis arises.

Other Staff: The Nursery also employs an infant teacher, a preschool teacher and about a half-dozen counselors/caregivers who provide loving, professional, quality, and consistent care to the children we serve.

Meet the Board of Directors

Yolo Crisis Nursery was established in 2001. Our board of directors is an active and involved group of volunteers that provide guidance, governance, and oversight for Yolo Crisis Nursery’s mission, operations, and program effectiveness. They come from a variety of backgrounds and represent communities throughout Yolo County.

Members of the Board:

JoEllen Welsch, President Yolo Crisis Nursery
Retired Teacher and Community Volunteer

Steve Willhoff, CPA, Treasurer Yolo Crisis Nursery
Partner, Carbahal & Company

Jennifer Thayer, Secretary
Associate Director, Development & Donor Relations, UC Davis

Caroline Chantry
Pediatrician, Sutter Davis Hospital and Retired UC Davis Professor

Jane Eadie
Senior Director, External Engagement, UC Davis 

Kelly Fung-Chen
Senior Manager, CalSTRS Financial Services

Steve Greenfield
Vice President, Cunningham Engineering 

Penny Howard
Broker Owner of Howard Real Estate Services; Broker Associate, RE/MAX Gold

Eric Miller
Associate Attorney, Boutin Jones Inc., Attorneys at Law

Will Pro
Owner, Will Pro Constructions Inc.

Kay Resler
Retired University Administrator and Community Volunteer

Carol Rosset
Principal, True Management Services, LLC

Joan Smith-Maclean 
Physician, Sutter Medical Group

Pat Stromberg
Retired HR Administrator and Community Volunteer

Ex-Officio Members & Liaisons:

  • Sharon Schauer, Chief Administrative Officer, UC Davis Health, Co-President of the Friends of the Yolo Crisis Nursery
  • Nancy Storm, Territory Manager, US Foods, Co-President of the Friends of the Yolo Crisis Nursery
  • Jim Provenza, Yolo County Supervisor, District 4, Adviser and Liaison to the Yolo County Board of Supervisors
  • Richard Reed, Deputy Director, Yolo County Board of Supervisors, District 4

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Nursery?
The Yolo Crisis Nursery is a four-bed facility in Davis, California, that provides 24-hour care for young children (up to age 5) free of charge. Parents place their children in the nursery on a voluntary basis. Children can stay overnight at the Nursery for as little as 24 hours and as long as 30 days at a time. Emergency day respite services are also available to families that need assistance but do not require overnight care for their children. Parents are provided with “wrap-around” resources and support to resolve their crisis, strengthen their parenting skills and provide a safe home for their children.
What is the extent of the child abuse and neglect problem in Yolo County?
Child abuse continues to persist in epidemic volumes at all ages, but it is particularly prevalent for those ages 0-5. That’s because the youngest children are the most vulnerable – unable to care or defend themselves. In 2013, California had 81,633 substantiated cases of child abuse with 38,087 of those cases (or, nearly 47%) involving children ages 0 to five.* Here in Yolo County, the problem is even worse. As shown in the graph below, 49% of the substantiated cases of child abuse in the past five years (of available data) involved children in that susceptible age group. There is no doubt this number would be even higher if the Crisis Nursery was not available to those in need in Yolo County. Pie chart of abuse

* California Child Welfare Indicators Project, University of California at Berkeley, January 1, 2013 to December 31, 2013.

What is the purpose of the Yolo Crisis Nursery?
Parents and caregivers who are experiencing high levels of stress without resources, support or relief are at a significantly higher risk of engaging in child abuse or neglect. Respite care in these situations addresses this. Research has found that crisis care services can: *

  • Prevent abuse or neglect
  • Reduce stress levels of caregivers
  • Improve the quality of the family relationships
  • Reduce the placement of children into the public system
  • Improve the caregivers confidence in parenting skills
  • Reduce Child/Family Separation: Allowing reunification in a shorter amount of time
  • Break the cycle of abuse and neglect

The purpose of the Yolo Crisis Nursery is to prevent abuse and/or neglect of children under the age of 5 by providing shelter for the children and assistance to their families who are facing a crisis. __________________ * Cole, Susan A.; Wehrmann, Kathryn C.; Dewar, G.; Swinford, L. (2005) Crisis nurseries: Important services in a system of care for families and children, Retrieved from http://www.law.harvard.edu/

What might cause a family to come to the Nursery?
The Crisis Nursery offers wraparound services designed to provide support, guidance, education and comfort in order to address the needs of both the children and parents in a crisis situation. Families may use the Crisis Nursery services for a number of reasons, which include but are not limited to:

  • Domestic Violence
  • A Medical or Mental Health Crisis
  • Homelessness
  • Substance Abuse Treatment
  • Poverty
  • Unexpected Loss of Employment
  • Feelings of Extreme Anxiety or Helplessness
  • Foster Child Placement
What specific services do you offer to parents?
When a child is placed at the Crisis Nursery, his or her parents, with assistance from the Crisis Nursery social worker, are required to develop a case plan, which will not only focus on the child’s immediate needs but also the parent/guardian’s needs. The goal of the case plan is to resolve the crisis that led them to seek assistance so that the child or children can be successfully transitioned back into the family. First, a Case Manager/Social Worker will conduct a family assessment which includes collecting information regarding the family’s physical and mental health, parenting skills, problems with attachment/bonding, family interactions, support systems, coping strategies, levels of stress, communication skills and previous utilization of assistance. An evaluation of the child’s adjustment and behavior during his/her stay at the Crisis Nursery is documented, and addressed with the parents/caregivers. The case plan will include information such as:

  • Goals to be accomplished
  • Defined period of service
  • Needs of the children
  • Defined resources/services provided by the Yolo Crisis Nursery
  • The involvement of the family and collaborating service agencies
  • Time frames for periodic review of progress toward goal attainment

In most cases, the period of the case plan will exceed the length of stay of a child in the Crisis Nursery. The Crisis Nursery may refer parents to any support services provided by other community agencies to ensure that each families needs are identified and necessary resources are accessed. The Crisis Nursery staff also collaborates with and serves on the Yolo County Children’s Alliance, the Yolo County First Five Family Focus Forums, and the Homeless Round Table Collaborative. They also work with CommuniCare Heath Centers, Empower Yolo, and Child Welfare Services. Informal or formal collaborative agreements with those agencies include the following services:

  • Individual, group and/or family counseling
  • Support groups
  • Medical Care
  • Parenting Classes and Parent Visitation
  • Speech Therapy
  • Home Management Training
  • Employment Training and Placement
  • Housing Assistance
  • Substance Abuse Treatment/Counseling
  • Telephone Support Lines
  • Legal Assistance
  • Mentor Services
  • Anger management
  • Family Therapy
  • Medical/Dental services
  • Psychiatric Services
  • Preparation of nutritious meals

Additional services from the Crisis Nursery available to the families also include:

  • Transportation arrangements
  • Nutritional advice
  • Problem-solving assistance
  • Support networks
  • Individual, group and/or family counseling
  • Support groups
  • Medical Care
  • Parenting Classes and Parent Visitation
  • Speech Therapy
  • Home Management Training
  • Employment Training and Placement
  • Housing Assistance
  • Substance Abuse Treatment/Counseling
  • Telephone Support Lines
  • Legal Assistance
  • Mentor Services
  • Anger management
  • Family Therapy
  • Medical/Dental services
  • Psychiatric Services
  • Preparation of nutritious meals
  • Care packages

After the child is discharged, formal case management may continue in the form of follow-up calls and/or visits, with a focus on encouraging parents/caregivers to continue utilizing community services on their own. Any time the parents/caregivers need support, respite services or assistance in finding additional resources they are encouraged to call the Crisis Nursery case manager. The assigned case manager will continue to follow-up and track the family for a year after being discharged from the Crisis Nursery. An aftercare tracking report documents the status and progress of the family to ensure any ongoing support needed is provided.

What specific services do you offer to children?
Soon after arriving at the Nursery, children are evaluated to determine if any medical or dental or other health related services are needed. If so, appointments are made with local physicians and dentists who provide care at no cost to the Nursery. Every child admitted to the crisis care program receives pajamas, diapers, formula (if needed), clothes, blankets, a stuffed animal, books and a toy. If additional items are needed the Crisis Nursery will provide those as well. The Crisis Nursery maintains a storage unit with toothbrushes, hairbrushes, gently used age-appropriate clothing and other necessities. Children receive three nutritious meals a day and three healthy snacks designed by a nutritionist. The children are quickly acclimated to the daily schedules and routines, which include meal times, rest and nap times, outdoor activities, art projects and other educational age appropriate activities.
What does it cost to run the Nursery for a year?
Our annual budget is approximately $500,000 a year. It is money well spent, as it not only does it prevent suffering and save lives, but it also averts more costly public services, such as the child welfare system, law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
Who operates the Nursery?


The Crisis Nursery provides care 7 days a week, 365 days a year and has a highly trained professional childcare staff. The team consists of an executive director, case managers, teachers (infant and pre-school), counselors and on-call caregivers. Heather Sleuter, the Executive Director, oversees all core elements of staffing, licensing, training, budget and administration. Lisa Nakayama oversees the day-to-day operation of the nursery including staff orientation and training, the intake of children, scheduling, meal planning and activity management. It is important to note that there is a core group of staff (including the Executive Director) and volunteers who have been an integral part of the Crisis Nursery since it began operation over a decade ago.

  • New staff is required to go through a comprehensive orientation, are provided with guidelines and appropriate training and are reviewed on a 3 month, 6 month and then on an annual basis.
  • All employees receive an employee handbook.
  • Volunteers also work at the nursery but only after they have been vetted with background checks, training and fingerprinting.
  • Volunteers may assist at the Crisis Nursery as long as they work in conjunction with a licensed care provider, but they never care for children without staff present.
  • All staff at the Crisis Nursery are mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect.
  • Provide consistency by staff shifts so the same employee works the same shifts unless they are sick or on vacation so children can bond with their caretakers.

The executive director reports to the Board of Directors, who meet monthly to set policy ad provide oversight.

Has the Nursery been successful in preventing abuse?
Yes. Over the last 15 years, the Crisis Nursery has sustained an impressive track record in treating families successfully. On average, the Crisis Nursery serves between 125-150 unduplicated children per year and has helped nearly 3,000 children since its inception. Additionally, 97% of the families who have received care and support through the Crisis Nursery over its 14 years stayed intact after receiving services. The vast majority of the Crisis Nursery’s clients are referred via domestic violence shelter/programs, homeless shelters/housing programs, mental health agencies, self-referral, and hospitals.So far the Crisis Nursery is meeting its 2014-2015 (measured from July to July) program goals with the following data achieved from July 1 to December 31, 2014:

  • 100% of families thus far receiving respite care have not become clients of CPS.
  • 86 families have been linked to case management counseling and other community resources. 100% of the families served have completed their referral.
  • Crisis Nursery staff has continued to provide families with need-specific case management and referral services. These services have included employment resources, parenting classes, family and individual counseling, and vouchers for transportation and housing, among others.
  • 122 families so far were served utilizing 888 slots.

The Crisis Nursery plays a direct role in decreasing abuse and neglect in Yolo County. As you can see from the graph below, the number of substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect in children ages 0-5 in Yolo County has decreased almost every year since the Crisis Nursery became established. The uncharacteristic increase in 2009 is likely related to the 2008 recession as researchers have found that child maltreatment increases as unemployment rises with a lag time of about a year.* It’s important to note that often during a recession, child protective services are cut so it’s imperative to have a local resource such as the Crisis Nursery available to families during tough times. Abuse statistics   Additionally, in December 2006, the ARCH (Access to Respite Care and Help) National Respite Network and Resource Center (NRNRC)** published the results of a 2-year study examining the relationships between crisis respite care to incidents of reported child abuse. The evaluation also explored the differences in outcomes between crisis respite used as a secondary prevention service and as a tertiary prevention service. The evaluation was conducted from June 14, 2004 – July 31, 2006 and included Sacramento Crisis Nurseries North and South, and the Crisis Nursery. The study provided evidence that Child Protective Services (CPS) reports on target families were significantly less likely to be substantiated than CPS reports on comparison families without crisis respite available. Families receiving respite/crisis resolution services were approximately 50% less likely to experience CPS substantiation than for those who utilized crisis respite with previous CPS involvement; and over 3 times less likely for those families who utilized crisis respite without previous CPS involvement. Further, when asked what alternative parents would have pursued had a crisis nursery not been available, 67% would have chosen a scenario where the child would have been at risk of maltreatment or endangerment. An additional 26% would have either requested foster care placement or not attended to essential family needs (i.e. medical, economic).

* Park, Alice/Time Magazine. (October 4, 2010). Side Effect of the Recession: An Increase in Child Abuse. Retrieved [February 8, 2015] from [http://healthland.time.com/2010/10/04/side-effect-of-the-recession-an-increase-in-child-abuse/] ** The mission of the ARCH National Respite Network and Resource Center is to assist and promote the development of quality respite and crisis care programs in the United States; to help families locate respite and crisis care services in their communities; and to serve as a strong voice for respite in all forums. The study was performed in partnership with the Chapel Hill Training Outreach Project.

Job Openings

Thank you for your interest in the Yolo Crisis Nursery. At this time, we do not have any open positions. 

Support the Yolo Crisis Nursery

The Yolo Crisis Nursery depends upon the support of generous, caring people like you.  Please help us with our mission and protect the vulnerable children in our community.

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