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Many Rivers cancels parent child groups

Long-running programs aimed at new parents and children have been dropped by Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services.

Long-running programs aimed at new parents and children have been dropped by Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services.

The non-profit organization insists it just can’t afford to offer them anymore.

The Yukon government has already stepped in to save one program. The fate of the others is still up in the air.

The three free groups - Mothering your Baby… the First Year, Parent-Child Mother Goose, and Nobody’s Perfect - all deal with issues after a baby is born. They stopped running in June.

Paying for them was never part of the organization’s funding agreement with the Yukon government, said Many Rivers executive director Brent Ramsay. That meant they never had guaranteed core funding.

“We just simply carried the program as long as we could. But there really wasn’t sufficient funding for it, there never was.”

Nobody’s Perfect has been running since 1994. It helps parents with children up to five years old deal with stress and learn about their child.

Both the Parent-Child Mother Goose group and the Mothering your Baby… the First Year are play-style programs where parents get a chance to bond with baby through games and songs.

Those programs have been running since 1999 and 2004, respectively.

They were all managed by a single staff member who has since been let go by Many Rivers.

Ramsay has only been at the helm of the organization for about a year. Questions about how the programs were kept afloat before then should be answered by “previous management,” he said.

Leah Ryckman, Many Rivers’ manager of programs, is also new to the organization. She explained that unlike other programs being offered there, the family education groups depended on grants from other organizations to function.

“The past practice was that there was almost an expectation for the family education to almost function in isolation, to seek their own funding to stay afloat,” she said.

“That’s not fair to any one staff member, that’s not how we want to operate as a team.”

As for whether or not a particular source of funding fell through recently, again, Ramsay deferred to previous management.

“What we know is that this year we did an analysis and found out that we don’t have the funds for it,” he said.

“I can’t speak for previous folks, whatever their analysis was in the past, but for us, we knew it just wasn’t achievable within the funds.”

Ramsay estimates Many Rivers was about $40,000 short.

“It’s great to be able to get some grants, but there’s just not enough there to be able to cover it,” he said.

The financial analysis was done after the organization had already signed a new funding agreement with the Yukon government. It came into effect in April 2014, he said.

That money - slightly less than $2 million a year - is locked in for the next three years and does not cover the programs in question. The money is specific to general counselling, the outreach van and youth outreach, the department said.

Many Rivers will continue to offer post-partum counselling, Ramsay said. Just not the group programs.

He said Many Rivers recognizes the value of these programs and hopes someone else will choose to step in.

Marcelle Dube, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Services, said her department will be continuing the mothering in the first year program out of the Whitehorse Health Centre.

That’s the same location where it used to run, facilitated by the Many Rivers staff member and a local nurse.

Specific details of how that program will be funded, when it will start up, and who will be facilitating it, were not available in time for this story.

The Mother Goose program is offered at the Heart of Riverdale community centre. That program is still up and running.

That leaves the Nobody’s Perfect program.

“There are several, I would dare say dozens, of trained facilitators throughout the territory that have the capacity to deliver that programming. It could be a First Nation, it could be a daycare, it could be an agency,” Ryckman said.

But the loss of the Many Rivers programs has some local parents worried.

“For me it was such a comfort to actually be around other moms that could relate to similar issues and struggles,” said Joanne Heyes, who was part of the last mothering in the first year group which was made up of six two-hour group sessions.

“Whether that’s sleep deprivation, or struggling feeling like you were doing an OK job, or how to cope. Just that sense of community and connection.”

Heyes said the group was capped at 15 and there was a wait list.

“That’s really common. There’s always huge wait list for these groups,” said Jo Lukawitski, who took the Mother Goose program with her son Oliver in 2010.

Lukawitski works as a doula and said she would often refer women to the Many Rivers groups.

“It can be a really isolating time right after having a baby,” she said. “There’s long nights, massive sleep disruption, your world is turned upside down… just trying to get a shower can be a challenge.”

Programs like these are key when caring for a new child seems all-consuming, the parents say.

Getting supports from the professional facilitator who ran the programs is important when it comes to spotting things like post-partum depression, Lukawitski said.

“Often the mothers that are experiencing it, they can’t actually tell that’s what’s happening with them. They think, ‘Oh, I’m just tired,’ things like that.”

Heyes said she was worried that the programs were just going to disappear and not be noticed.

“I don’t feel like people understand how valuable these are, and if they did, they wouldn’t be cut.”

A petition has been started on the website calling for the programs to be restored.

“We just see a glaring gap, a hole in the community. These services were essential to people so if somebody could pick it up, that would be great,” Lukawitski said.

The petition had received 64 signatures as of this morning.

Contact Ashley Joannou at