Batshaw and community workers in Lachine, LaSalle and Verdun held their first “My Family, My Community” Steering Committee meeting last Friday, November 30.
“My Family, My Community” will radically change how Batshaw Youth and Family Services handles youth protection cases for children between one- and five-years old and their older siblings. In future, potential placement crises will be handled via team decision making meetings in the child’s community, not at Batshaw head office.
“When there is a crisis, I call on the community and we work out a way to keep the child within their own neighbourhood,” says Ninar Itani, Batshaw’s “My Family, My Community” project coordinator. “We’re hoping that this will prevent children at risk from being sent out of their communities.”
The project is needed because too many children from Lachine, LaSalle and Verdun have to live far from their regular homes when family crises occur.
Last year, only four of 15 children from Lachine were able to stay in Lachine while their parents sought treatment for alcohol or drug abuse, mental health breakdowns or other serious problems. Of the 22 children taken into protection in LaSalle last year, only two stayed near their usual homes. Of the 16 children who had to be removed from homes in Verdun, only two were placed nearby in Verdun. The other 45 children went to foster homes in Ahunsic, Brossard, Chateauguay, Cote St. Luc, Hochelaga-Maisonneuve and Ville Marie. Older siblings had to travel daily or change schools.
“My family, my community” aims to develop networks of support close to parents, so that children can be protected either in their own homes or in homes nearby. “One of the strategies is for us to develop links with community players,” says Itani. “It doesn’t have to be the CLSC; it doesn’t have to be foster parents. It can be the grandmother; it can be the depanneur owner down the street. It can be anyone who has the parents’ trust.”
“My family, my community” is a revamped version of the “Family to Family System” originally developed by the Casey Foundation in the United States. Batshaw and the Association des centres jeunesse du Québec (ACJQ) have received $1,105,527 from Avenir d’enfants to run the project for three years in Montreal, the Montérégie and Abitibi.
A research team led by Marc Tourigny from the University of Sherbrooke will assess the project and provide evaluations to steering committees like the one meeting on Friday.
At that meeting, representatives from local CLSCs, CCS Services, COVIQ, the Douglas Institute, Elizabeth House, Lester B. Pearson and the Foster Families department at Batshaw will discuss how the project will be implemented. The group plans to meet four times a year for the next three years.
Itani says that the project may take time to garner results, but communities in the United States that have tried the new approach have only good things to say. “There’s more of a sense of confidence when a case is closed because the foster family and all the other players are still in the community supporting the family even after a placement ends or a crisis is adverted.”