The Council of Yukon First Nations has teamed up with a college in British Columbia to offer a first-of-its-kind training program for Yukon First Nations family support workers in the territory.
CYFN executive director Shadelle Chambers and Ruth Lyall, a coordinator with Victoria-based Camosun College’s Department of Indigenous Education and Community Connections, announced the program during a press conference Jan. 27.
The announcement coincided with the first day of a five-day-long orientation in Whitehorse for the program’s 18 participants. The participants, selected from a pool of 40 applicants, are citizens of 10 Yukon First Nations and serve as family support workers or affiliated support roles for their First Nations.
The program is based on Camosun College’s existing Indigenous family support program, adapted to include local culturally and historically-relevant content. The goal, Chambers explained, is for participants to learn how to better support their clients and communities, particularly in ways that can help keep First Nations children out of government care.
“I think the reality right now is, the current child welfare system is not always able to respond to community-based concerns in a culturally-appropriate way … We’re all well aware of the current child welfare system has been focused on apprehension,” she said.
“We really want to focus on prevention, so yes, the family may need interventions, but what does that look like and who’s best suited to do that?”
The latest data made available to CYFN, Chambers said, indicated that there are 58 Yukon First Nations children in care, who account for about 80 per cent of the total number of children in care.
The 10-month-long program is structured in such a way that participants can continue working in their home communities. Week-long classes and training sessions, the majority of which will take place in Whitehorse, are only scheduled for once a month, with little if any homework to be assigned in-between.
This differs from Camosun’s regular program, which is full-time, Lyall said. CYFN and the college wanted the Yukon program to be as accessible as possible, she explained; another difference is that there’s an “auditing” option for Yukon participants who don’t have a Grade 12 English class credit, meaning they can still take part in all the classes and training, but will not receive an academic credit for completing the program.
(Participants with Grade 12 English will receive additional readings and assignments, and, upon successful completion of the program, will receive an academic credit with the college.)
While participants will take Camosun courses covering subjects like Indigenous identity and history, addictions intervention and counselling strategies and family violence prevention, parts of the program are also set to take place at cultural centres or camps in the communities.
“We just want to ensure that this isn’t completely done in a classroom setting because we know as First Nations, learning on the land and experiential learning is really important,” Chambers said.
Participants do not have to pay tuition. CYFN is covering the entirety of the approximately $500,000 it will cost to run the program, including college and instructor fees, transportation, accommodation and meals, thanks to a grant from Indigenous Services Canada.
Ashley Edzerza, a parent capacity coordinator with Selkirk First Nation, is one of the 18 people in the inaugural cohort. She said she often works with the same clients as the First Nation’s family support worker, and wanted to learn to best help them avoid getting to the point of getting involved in the child welfare system.
“It’s something I want to do for myself so I can be more involved in my community in this subject, because … we have a few families who have kids in care and how do I help them? Because I never learnt that, right?” she told the News during the lunch break on Jan. 27.
One thing Edzerza said she already found was of value was the opportunity to network and share with other people doing similar work across the territory.
“Knowing that there’s other people out there that you can connect with and different positions that they’re doing, that’s pretty helpful,” she said.
“I think by the end of this we’re all just going to feel like a little family because there’s going to be a lot of things that are going to come out of this… There’s so much out there that we can learn from each other. I just hope to pick up every little bit and piece that I can from everyone.”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org