New program aiming to help indigenous families

Sam Odrowski

Weechi-it-te-win Family Services here is introducing a new program to provide trauma informed, culturally safe, developmental and rehabilitative support services to the district’s 10 First Nation communities.
The organization is in the midst of opening an office to support the new program, located upstairs at the Nexus Credit Union building (601 Mowat Ave).
The new program, called “Developmental Support Services,” will provide support to families of children who may be experiencing developmental delays or challenges, said Michelle Strachan, Weechi-it-te-win Family Services developmental support services manager.
“Really, it’s about allowing for children and their families to have the opportunity to function optimally on a day-to-day basis,” she explained.
“Whether a child has challenges in relation to learning, FASD, or autism, or just environmental factors.”
The program also is great for assisting new parents who may not have the understanding or tools necessary to maximize their parenting capabilities.
“We are able to offer them early intervention services that will help children, their parents, and their support networks,” Strachan noted.
Weechi-it-te-win currently is working on hiring an intake co-ordinator/family navigator, as well as two new developmental therapists, which are all full-time positions.
The intake co-ordinator/family navigator will help families navigate the system and find any additional services the organization doesn’t offer currently.
“The biggest challenge for a lot of parents is navigating the system and knowing where to go, and that’s what we are here for,” Strachan remarked.
“We want to help people access the services they need.”
Weechi-it-te-win also is contracting an occupational therapist, to provide children with assessments three days a month, for the new “Developmental Support Services” program.
The way the new program is delivered differs from how other organizations would approach it, said Strachan.
“I think one of the unique components of our program is that our therapists are going to be going into the communities to deliver individual/family therapy and early intervention services in the child’s natural environment, or wherever the family feels the most comfortable,” she noted.
Essentially, the service is going to the client rather than the client coming to the service.
Strachan said it’s important to provide services from inside First Nation communities because it allows for greater inclusion.
It also makes it easier to incorporate family values, customs, and practices when in a place where the client feels the most support.
The important people in a child’s life are the “experts,” whether that’s parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, or siblings.
“The people surrounding a child all have very significant roles to play,” Strachan stressed. “Our Anishinaabe family systems are important and Weechi-it-te-win looks to those systems to maintain and preserve our natural protective factors.
“As workers, we are simply helpers to coach, mentor, and guide when and where it is needed.”
Strachan believes the way the programming is given to families is what makes it so effective.
“I think that’s a really great component about this program because it is really about the needs, strengths, and priorities of families,” she lauded.
“The expectation is that we will allow families to have choice in the process and work side-by-side, but also take the lead on what the families need for their children to be successful on a daily basis.”
The services the new program offer aren’t new to the community but are in high demand, as many of the district’s agencies currently have lengthy wait lists.
Strachan hopes the new program will lighten the load for other service providers in the area who deliver similar services.
She is happy to be able to provide more services to indigenous children and their families who are in need through the new program.
“Working with children is a passion of mine and having the opportunity to be able to offer a service that will help parents and children improve their existing skills, be better parents, and help kids to avoid the stress of dealing with developmental challenges is something this program will help families achieve,” Strachan enthused.
“We want to preserve the integrity of the family unit and, where possible, strengthen family systems through trauma-informed and culturally-safe practices.”
She urges families who could utilize Weechi-it-te-win’s services to reach out.
“Once we are operational, I would encourage parents or guardians to engage in the referral process so we can assist you with finding the services that are needed and specific to your family,” Strachan said.
The program also will be introducing a Visiting Kookums (Grandparents) and a respite program later in the year.
The Visiting Kookums program will allow families to access community knowledge-holders while the respite program will allow for emergency and short-term care for their children when it’s required.
Strachan currently is working on preparing the new program and setting up their new office, which should be fully operational by the end of June or beginning of July.
She is available to do community and/or agency presentations for anyone interested in learning more about the services.
Strachan can be contacted at 274-3201.