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Caring for Our Children: Supporting the Next Generation
From the coastal village of Bella Bella to the remote communities of Matawa in northern Ontario, people committed to the well-being of children and families in Canada gathered for an NCCAH-hosted Showcase on Aboriginal Child Rearing - Caring for Our Families and Children that took place in Ottawa March 13-14, 2009.
Addressing the legacy of the residential school system for families includes building on community strengths to support the next generation. This event highlighted programs and strategies that are working for First Nations, Inuit and Métis parents, families and communities, and featured a panel of Elders and young parents who shared their wisdom and experience in raising their own children. Margo Greenwood, Academic Leader of the National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health, noted at the event that a history of colonization, welfare policies, residential school systems, and other issues "have profoundly affected our children and youth who have so often grown up in environments where social supports and traditional roles and responsibilities have been undermined. We are continuing our work to support a strengths-based approach to meeting the needs of our children, one that builds on our assets, our talents and our creativity." Supported by Health Canada, the showcase will result in an action plan for decision-makers and practitioners to identify parenting support issues and strategies in First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.
The Showcase on Aboriginal Childrearing provided a unique opportunity for more than 100 people working the field of early childhood development from across the country to learn from each other. National leaders in the field of child rights and population health set the tone for the gathering by emphasizing two key principles: putting children in the centre and communities in control. Senator Landon Pearson has devoted a lifetime to supporting children's rights through her work representing Canada at the United Nations (see A Canada Fit for Children) and through the Landon Pearson Resource Centre at Carleton University. Pearson shared her personal experience as a parent and told the gathering: "Every child needs someone in his life who is crazy about him...The task for the rest of society, the rest of us, is to ensure every young parent is surrounded by the support of people who love and care for them as they love and care for their children." Guest speaker, Senator Wilbert J. Keon is a cardiac surgeon and co-author of the newly released Report of the Senate Subcommittee on Population Health, which includes specific recommendations on Aboriginal health. He said early childhood programs and policies must be community-based and sensitive to local needs. "We know there is a tremendous health inequity between some Aboriginal communities and others, and between some Aboriginal communities and the majority of Canadians. But solutions will only come when interventions are made at the local level and not imposed from above," Keon said. He said a continuum of care from infancy through school age and beyond is needed to address the patchwork nature of programs that leave vacuums in support as children grow.
Keon noted that interaction and stimulation in early childhood can help overcome early physical and mental challenges and have a positive effect on people's health and well-being for the rest of their lives. Senator Keon said that after holding hearings with Aboriginal communities, organizations and groups across the country, the most important things the committee had learned is the need for a holistic approach to health.
Lynda Brown and Heidi Langille, who work with children and youth at the Ottawa Inuit Centre, delighted guests with traditional Inuit throat singing at the 2009 Showcase.
· children set parents on the path to being strong and to finding their roots; · caregivers can choose to parent differently from their own parents, whose lives involved different struggles; · asking for and accepting help, whether from family or from programs like Head Start, is a sign of strength, · stronger networks and stronger cultural programs are key, · young parents need support wherever they may be, in cities and in communities.
The panel also urged understanding of parents who are addicted, as addictions are typically a symptom of issues that are deep-rooted. An audience member who worked at the Ottawa Inuit Children's Centre agreed. "We see a lot of younger and older parents who are addicted, but to their children, that person is the most important person in their lives. We need to reach out to single parents, young parents, older parents, and we have to be non-judgmental." Elders like Jan Longboat, a Mohawk, said it was urgent for Elders to play a mentorship role, in schools, in communities, in families -- a sentiment shared by Inuit Elder Rhoda Karetak, who became active in teaching her culture when she realized children were growing up with very little knowledge of their heritage.
· Triple P Parenting - Elsipogtog First Nation, New Brunswick · Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) - Heiltsuk Nation, B.C. · Positive Indian Parenting - Skookum Jim Friendship Centre, Whitehorse · Roots of Empathy - Waycobah First Nation, Nova Scotia · Growing Great Kids™ - Westbank First Nation, B.C.
Parenting Program Showcase Highlights Additional programs used in First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities and showcased at the event included the following highlights: The Virtues Project™ and the Stò:lõ Nation
Mary Stewart is a coordinator of a parents' program run by the Stò:lõ Nation, on the Fraser River in B.C. She has helped modify a program that focuses on the moral and spiritual development of children, called "The Virtues Project™", by strengthening its relevancy to First Nations culture, particularly through a focus on language. The Virtues Project aims to encourage the practice of virtues like honour and trust in everyday life that help develop character. Examples of how the program has been adapted for Stò:lõ parents and children include:
· First Nations art is incorporated in learning activities. · 51 of the virtue words are being translated to the Halq'emeylem language. · The facilitator incorporates a Stò:lõ/First Nations practice or teaching within the virtue word activity. · A series of audio cassettes that include words and phrases, as well as songs taught in the preschool and family program, are used in art activities and circle time.
Mary Stewart, of the Stò:lõ Nation, coordinates a parents program that incorporates First Nations traditions, Stò:lõ language and cultural practice in its adaptation of "The Virtues Project™" program for families.
Collaboration at Step by Step Child and Family Centre in Kahnawake Mohawk Territory
At the nationally recognized Step by Step Child and Family Centre in Kahnawake, near Montreal, the approach to parenting support is not so much an emphasis on programs as on a philosophy and set of principles that guide work with families. "We see the parents as having expertise," said Nancy Rother, coordinator of Inclusive Programming at the Centre. "We work in partnership with the family. They let us know what makes their children smile, what comforts them, what their strengths are, and we build trust so that our assessments of their children are on target." This focus on collaboration and parent coaching is a strengths-based approach that helps build capacity rather than focusing on pathology and deficits. An inclusive early intervention program open to children ages 2 months to 6 years, the Centre uses tools such as the Ages and Stages Questionnaire™, Asset Portfolios, and other programs to help parents determine the stage of their child's development, and their child's strengths and characteristics. The Centre also provides a morning coffee drop-in, workshops, discussion groups for parents, and one-on-one coaching. Services and supports are culturally guided and evidence-based, and range from speech and language support to health and nutrition. Interventions are implemented in the context of children's everyday activity to enhance success, bridging the therapeutic, home and school environments. The Step By Step Child and Family Centre is a learning organization that makes ongoing shifts in its practices even as it seeks to develop new practices specifically for Indigenous people. In collaboration with Canada's Research Chair in Early Intervention at the University of Quebec in Trois Rivières and other partners, for instance, the Centre is researching a new process of screening and assessment that is culturally relevant and will help prevent the mislabeling of cultural difference as individual or group pathology. Click here for a news release on this project.
"Our children are a gift... They are on loan to us from the Creator..." -Pat Makokis, of Blue Quills College in Alberta.
Aboriginal Head Start - Ottawa Inuit Children's Centre
For the NCCAH event, the Ottawa Inuit Children's Centre showcased Aboriginal Head Start as an Inuit-specific program supporting parents and children in the urban setting of Ottawa. There are 126 Aboriginal Head Start sites in urban and northern communities across Canada (click here for more). Aboriginal Head Start is a Public Health Agency of Canada-funded early childhood development program for First Nations, Inuit and Métis children and their families. The primary goal of the initiative is to demonstrate that locally controlled and designed early intervention strategies can provide Aboriginal children with a positive sense of themselves, a desire for learning, and opportunities to develop fully as successful young people. As the Centre's executive director Karen Baker-Anderson notes, the unique goals for the program at the Ottawa Inuit Children's Centre include meeting the needs of Inuit from across the north who come from different regions and are often new to an urban setting. The Sivummut Head Start program, Tumiralaat Child Care Centre, the Family Literacy program, and youth programs like Bridging the Gap and Youth Central, aim to provide each child and family with a supportive learning environment that promotes Inuit culture and language. Activities at the centre include parenting circles to discuss topics of interest, hear guest speakers, and share a meal, while a cultural coordinator supports the integration of cultural teachings in all the Centre's programs. Parents are helped in advocating for their child at school, for instance during parent/teacher interviews, and classroom presentations on Inuit language and culture are also offered. More generally, AHS projects provide programming in six core areas: education and school readiness; Aboriginal culture and language; parental involvement, health promotion; nutrition; and social support. Projects are locally designed and controlled, and administered by non-profit Aboriginal organizations. AHS directly involves parents and the community in the management and operation of projects. Parents are supported in their role as the child's first and most influential teacher, and the wisdom of Elders is valued.
Attachment Focused Play Therapy - Métis Community Services Society of BC
Kelly Kubik was recently regional executive director of the Métis Community Services Society of BC, which is based in Kelowna and offers support to about 3,000 Métis in the city. Kubik noted at the event that just over half of the children in care in B.C. are Aboriginal-identified; 35 to 40 per cent of these are Métis identified. Parents and youth become involved in programs at the Métis Community Services Society through referral and word of mouth. The unique culture of Métis people is a major component of programs, and helps play a role supporting those who were negatively affected by the residential school system. "There is a real need for parents to learn to become parents," Kubik said. Sandra Martinson is a play therapist with the Society and holds an MA in counseling. She uses programs that support children's sense of belonging and security, and that provide early intervention with children showing developmental concerns. "Come Play With Me" is an attachment focused play therapy program at the Centre that particularly supports parenting. Based on "Theraplay®" principles, the Attachment Focused Play Therapy program uses a "hands-on" approach, building on interactive play that convinces a child they are lovable and that the world is a good place to be. "My intention for the group is to develop skills with parents to engage their children at home," said Martinson. Much of the program has been locally developed and enhanced with Métis cultural practices to support parent connections with their children. Positive interactions develop a child's sense of belonging and security. The Society's services are funded by the provincial Interior Health Authority, and are available to all Aboriginal (Métis, First Nations, Inuit) children and youth. Currently, Val Richards is the society's acting director.
Aboriginal Infant Development Program - Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council
The Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council provides programs and services to about 8,000 registered members who live on the West Coast of Vancouver Island. Three infant development workers deliver the Aboriginal Infant Development Program through home visits to 14 Nations, many of which are only accessible by boat, logging road or plane. (Click here to visit the Nuu-chah-nulth Infant Development Program website). The provincial Aboriginal Infant Development Program differs from mainstream versions in several ways, particularly by supporting parents whose children are showing both typical and atypical development. Where children are at risk for developmental delays, for instance in speech and language, or in physical development, infant development workers in Nuu-chah-nulth communities will make referrals and support families in the often long and costly journeys to receive appropriate support. Senior program worker Jackie Watts describes the AIDP in Nuu-chah-nulth as a self-government initiative incorporating cultural understandings of children as gifts from the Creator. The program is family-centred and strengths-based. Infant development workers focus on home visits of families and caregivers with children from infancy to six years. Caregivers receive information on child development within a cultural context, do "Ages and Stages" questionnaires on their children; and are helped to plan learning activities in the home and community to encourage growth.
Supporting Security Pilot Project at Eabametoong First Nation, Fort Hope
The Eabametoong First Nation, at Fort Hope in northern Ontario, has introduced a pilot project in which four staff members trained with the Infant Psychiatry Program at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto in a program supporting emotional bonding, or attachment, between infants and parents. Attachment parenting is based on the idea that babies learn to trust and thrive when their needs are consistently met by a caregiver early in life. Over a 12-week period, workers supported parents in home activities that helped them learn to "read" their babies and better understand what they were feeling and communicating. The Eabametoong First Nation is one of ten member communities of Matawa First Nations, five of which are accessible only by air, water and winter roads. There are about 1200 people in the Forst Hope community, of which 60 per cent are children. The use of "telehealth" technology in this pilot project helped overcome the challenges of distance, allowing for regular long distance meetings with hospital program representatives. Videotaped sessions conducted with the informed consent of parents also provided opportunities for feedback on parent/child interactions. Flora Waswa, acting manager of the Healthy Babies Program in the community, noted that the "Supporting Security" preventive intervention program was successful in enhancing the confidence of parents. "It was a really good program and parents felt much better in knowing how to play with their babies," Waswa said. The Eabametoong Chief and Band Council supported the project, which was led by child psychiatrist Dr. Jean Wittenberg, Head of the Infant Psychiatry Program at the Hospital for Sick Children. Dr. J. Courteau at Health Canada and KO Telehealth and Telepsychiatry at the Hospital for Sick Children helped make the project possible. (For more on KO Telemedicine, which delivers information technologies to First Nations in Ontario, click here.) The "Supporting Security" pilot project has led to plans for a similar group for fathers, and for incorporation of Elders.
Nobody's Perfect Parenting Program at the? Porcupine Health Unit in Moosonee, Ontario
The Nobody's Perfect Parenting Program helps support many of the young parents in this northern community of about 2,500 people. It is supported on-reserve by Health Canada, First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, and off-reserve by the Public Health Agency of Canada, Centre for Health Promotion. Facilitated by trained parenting educators, Nobody's Perfect gives parents a safe place to meet with other parents of young children to share experiences. The program incorporates five easy-to-read booklets (Mind, Body, Safety, Behaviour, and Parents) and a sixth supplement on Feelings. These promote the non-physical discipline of children, and alternative ways for parents to deal with their children's emotional responses, as well as their own. In Moosonee, the program is delivered through the Porcupine Health Unit in concert with the Moosonee Native Friendship Centre (supporting traditional parenting approaches), the Moosonee Family Resource Centre (providing information on family violence), as well as with Aboriginal Head Start programs for a more comprehensive approach to parent support. Across Canada, more than 5,000 community workers, parents and public health professionals have been trained as Nobody's Perfect facilitators. Please visit the Public Health Agency of Canada for more information. Facing The Challenges
Some of the challenges in supporting Aboriginal parents and caregivers in raising the next generation of children were voiced by participants; while some have been identifeed by programs themselves. For instance, the province-wide, family-centered, early child development program in British Columbia, "Aboriginal Aboriginal Infant Development Programs (AIDP) of BC," notes that issues in ensuring early childhood development support for Aboriginal families include:
· barriers in accessing services · the complexity of family and community issues · the lack of an Aboriginal Developmental Screening tool · referrals of children that are often late, or never · access to culturally safe programs · meaningful data collection
Debbie Dedam-Montour, Chief Executive Officer of the National Indian and Inuit Community Health Representatives Organization (NIICHRO), told participants that she applauded recognition of the importance of intervention at the local level, a key role played by community health representatives. However, she also noted that there is a pressing need for training support for CHRs in the field. Ryan Calder, executive director of Métis Nation of Saskatchewan, noted that health services for Métis people are typically provided by mainstream delivery organizations rather than by Métis organizations, and that programs are rarely Métis specific. "Right now it's very disjointed," he said. Norma Gould, coordinator of the Family Resource Centre at Waycobah First Nation in Nova Scotia, said many of the people at the gathering likely "wear a lot of hats" in meeting the varied and pressing needs of local communities, and she noted there was a need to support this important work at the local level. Vivian Scott, who shared her perspectives on the panel of parents, observed that a history of obstacles "has made us stronger as Aboriginal people." Many participants felt empowered by the national gathering to return to their communities with new knowledge and renewed energy. In wrapping up, Margo Greenwood, Academic Leader of the National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health, noted that a history of colonization, welfare policies, residential school systems, and other issues "have profoundly affected our children and youth who have so often grown up in environments where social supports and traditional roles and responsibilities have been undermined. We are continuing our work to support a strengths-based approach to meeting the needs of our children, one that builds on our assets, our talents and our creativity. We are grateful you were able to be such a valued part of this important national gathering."
· First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, Health Canada · Centre of Excellence for Children and Adolescents with Special Needs, Lakehead University · Aboriginal ActNow BC
The NCCAH also gratefully acknowledges the guidance and support of our Steering Committee:
· Al Lawrence, Le'Lum'uy'l Centre, Duncan; Member: BC Early Childhood Development Table; Aboriginal Childcare Society · Shirley Tagalik, Educational Consultant, Inukpaujaq Consulting · Dr. Tom Dignan, Thunder Bay Zone, Health Canada · Karen Baker-Anderson, Executive Director, Ottawa Inuit Children's Centre · Heidi Langille, Coordinator, Bridging the Gap, Ottawa Inuit Children's Centre · Lynda Brown, Parent and Community Development Coordinator, Ottawa Inuit Children's Centre · Colleen Sauve, Aboriginal Healthy Babies Program Coordinator, Odawa Native Friendship Centre, Ottawa · Cathy Winters, Senior Policy Coordinator, Children and Youth, Health Canada · Dan George, Facilitator, President: Four Directions Management Services · Arlene Moscovitch, film director · Kelly Terbasket, Blind Creek Consulting