The Fraser Region Aboriginal Child and Youth Mental Health Teams
Reprinted from "Aboriginal People" issue of Visions Journal, 2008, 5 (1), pp. 30-31
In 2004, the Fraser Region Aboriginal Planning Committee (now the Fraser Region Interim Aboriginal Authority1) and the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) formed a partnership. The aim of the partnership was to put together a plan for improving mental health services for Aboriginal children and youth. We were involved in the process of creating this plan.
Over the next year, we invited Aboriginal individuals, organizations and communities in the Fraser region, from Burnaby to Boston Bar to take part in community sessions. Those who participated in the community sessions told us they wanted better ways of getting services and wanted to have services that fit with how they see the world.
The information from the community sessions gave us planning goals. The goals that guided us in creating the Aboriginal Child and Youth Mental Health Plan (The Plan)2 include the following:
Improving access to child and youth mental health services by focusing on outreach and/or community-based services
Focusing on designing services that are relevant to Aboriginal people by respecting Aboriginal tradition and “way of life,” and including Aboriginal people in service delivery
Ensuring the delivery of services is aligned with the direction of the Fraser Region Interim Aboriginal Authority order (see text box)
Building bridges between Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal community-based services and mainstream child and youth mental health services
The Plan was approved in February 2006, first by the Fraser Region Aboriginal Planning Committee and Fraser Region MCFD, and then by the MCFD provincial office.
Aboriginal Child and Youth Mental Health
Aboriginal Child and Youth Mental Health is a program of the Ministry of Child and Family Development. Its purpose is to enhance child and youth mental health services for the Aboriginal population within the Fraser region. It will serve status and non-status First Nation people both on- and off-reserve, Métis, Inuit and anyone identifying as Aboriginal. ACYMH services are meant to help solve the problems Aboriginal people have identified with the existing services for children and youth.
The ACYMH teams
There are two Aboriginal Child and Youth Mental Health (ACYMH) teams serving the Fraser region. The Fraser Region Aboriginal Planning Committee divided the Fraser region into six circles of Aboriginal communities.2 The West team covers the Burnaby, New Westminster, Tri-Cities, Surrey, Delta and White Rock areas (two circles). The East team covers from Maple Ridge and Langley east to Hope and Boston Bar (four circles).
Both ACYMH teams will have outreach workers, clinicians and guides. Our intention is to recruit Aboriginal people to fill all these jobs.
We are excited that the majority of outreach worker and clinician positions have been filled. About half the applicants are of Aboriginal ancestry.
We’ll also be hiring people from the Aboriginal community to fill the role of a guide. Guides will help families who want to use MCFD Child and Youth Mental Health services, but don’t feel safe using the system or don’t understand it. In the community feedback, it was suggested that we have “a guide to ease feelings upon accessing the services.” We acted on this suggestion.
The Fraser River Interim Aboriginal Authority
The Fraser River Interim Aboriginal Authority (FRIAA) is made up of representatives from Métis and urban and land-based First Nations. The FRIAA is the Aboriginal planning committee responsible for the development of a community-based Aboriginal Authority for Children and Family Development for the Fraser region. (See www.fraa.ca/about.html#why)
The FRIAA will become the Fraser Region Aboriginal Authority (FRAA) through a legal process of the provincial government. Once it has been created, the FRAA will gradually oversee the delivery of services currently provided by the Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD) to Aboriginal people. (See www.fraa.ca/about.html#what)
Already in the works
Right now, we’re providing educational services to the Aboriginal community. We’re teaching communities about the way the mental health system is set up and how it runs, so people won’t be fearful when looking for help. Again, in the community sessions, people pointed to a need to break down barriers. For example: “some people don’t read” and “the paperwork that has to be completed gets in the way and doesn’t always make sense.”
We also provide information on what “mental health” means and do other prevention work with people in the community to lower the rates of mental illness. We’ll work closely with other service providers. We believe that partnerships are very important for good work to be done.
The clinicians we’ve hired will be providing therapy and counselling. We will not be replacing the existing CYMH clinicians. Our clinicians, like our outreach workers, will go out into the community. Feedback also told us that “mental health workers should provide home visits.” And that is what we have planned.
Another strong message from the community sessions told us there is “a lack of understanding by MCFD Child and Youth Mental Health about [Aboriginal] culture.” They said that “mental health staff need to be trained re: historical events and impacts that have caused some of the problems for Aboriginal people.”
So, we are holding Aboriginal cultural sensitivity trainings for all Child and Youth Mental Health clinicians. The week-long training provides a great introduction to First Nations, Inuit and Métis history and world view. Participating clinicians are invited to take part in traditional ceremonies and other cultural activities. In partnership with First Nations communities in the region, we have held two of the three trainings in local traditional long houses, to provide an experiential learning environment.
Finally, ACYMH is in the early stages of a project with Fraser Health. The project goal is to develop a model that will allow families and youth to have the choice of receiving both Western/European practices and/or traditional healing practices when being treated for anxiety and/or depression.
Toward . . .
In the near future, we see Aboriginal children and youth achieving mental wellness and balance with the support of these two different systems of care and ways of healing. And, care will be provided in a manner and location that is most suitable for the family, child and/or youth.
About the authors
Janit is the Aboriginal Child and Youth Mental Health Team Leader, Fraser Region East. She’s of Irish decent. Virge is the Aboriginal Child and Youth Mental Health Team Leader, Fraser Region West. She is from Lytton First Nation