Families and caregivers supporting youth mental health
As part of our ongoing blog series with the Graham Boeckh Foundation, we’re exploring how the Integrated Youth Services (IYS) movement is transforming youth mental health in Canada through the perspectives of youth, families and service providers involved in IYS initiatives around Canada.
Families and caregivers play an important role in supporting the mental health and well-being of the young people in their lives and often need support on the journey. Involving families and caregivers in the design and implementation of services, and supporting them along the way, is a key principle of IYS. IYS hubs provide resources and supports to help families navigate the system and find the supports they need to help their young person. Through local parent advisory councils, family members and caregivers also play an active role in informing services at IYS hubs and sites around the country.
To learn more about how families and caregivers are involved in IYS, we spoke with Tracy Moss Forbes from Prince George, BC and Laurie Roeszler from Chatham, ON about their experience with Foundry and ACCESS Open Minds / Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario. Tracy and Laurie spoke to us about how they came to be involved in their local youth hub and what IYS means for parents, caregivers and families.
Tracy Moss Forbes, Prince George, BC
Family Advisory Board Member and Ambassador, Foundry Prince George
How are you involved with Foundry?
I am a Family Advisory Board Member and an Ambassador for Foundry Prince George. I was one of the first participants when Foundry first opened in Prince George. As a member of the Family Advisory and Ambassador Group, I attend meetings once a month, staying updated locally and provincially and providing insight and ideas around current issues and events. Foundry really wants to hear from the youth and caregivers they are serving; what our issues are raising young people with challenges and getting services for ourselves and for our kids. I definitely am grateful for the opportunity to have input that helps to influence the shaping of services.
Tell us how you first came to learn about the
It was through the YMCA YAP (Youth Around Prince) program that I first learned about Foundry. My son was accessing services through the YMCA and a couple of other organizations, including the BC Schizophrenic Society’s Activity Centre for Empowerment program, that are in the same building where Foundry would be. It was through them that we learned there would be a separate mental health and substance use service for youth 12 to 24. It was one of the other moms who first suggested I would be a good voice on the Family Advisory Board.
What has been your experience with Foundry? How
has it been different from other experiences you have had?
As a caregiver, Foundry has given me a voice. I cannot say enough about the value placed on lived experience. I have been encouraged to share my perspective and to be very specific about what my struggles have been finding services for my First Nations son, whom I have raised since birth. Having a First Nations child and several First Nations friends of all ages has given me strong insight into the extra set of barriers that face Indigenous kids and families. I have also had the encouragement and opportunity to participate in conferences and workshops where a focus is put on Indigenous history and working within reconciliation processes, so I have been able to provide insight and influence elements of Foundry projects as they develop.
In other spaces, the importance of having that lived experience point of view can be overlooked, especially when there are so many educated voices. For someone like me who doesn’t have an education, being a part of the Family Advisory has validated my very real and often traumatic experiences of not being able to get help for myself and services for my kids. It’s been so profound for me.
What has Foundry Prince George meant to you and
Foundry provided me with a voice and an eagerness to share what I really felt our community and our surrounding rural communities needed to support youth and their families. Even though my kids have aged out of services now, things would have looked different for them if they had access to Foundry’s supports when they were younger, but I still have a lot of insight as to what the community needs, as several of my friends still have young teenagers. In the 3 years since Foundry Prince George has been open, I have seen them re-shape what they offer based on the input and needs of the community.
What would you say to other parents or
caregivers whose child might be struggling and who are not sure how to support
I would say if you’re concerned about your youth, come in and talk about it. One of the first ways that Foundry can help a young person and their family is to get the caregivers and family members in there and let them know they aren’t alone and that their concerns are valid. It’s important to have a safe space where you can openly share how you are feeling without judgement and to learn some skills yourself, like how to let your youth know that you’re there for them. I really encourage parents and family members to start with visiting a centre. In those first intake meetings, you can brainstorm how to get support for both yourself and your youth.
Laurie Roeszler, Chatham, ON
Family Navigator, ACCESS Open Minds/YWHO Chatham-Kent
How are you involved with ACCESS Open Minds/YWHO Chatham-Kent?
For the past 5 years until recently, I have been Family Navigator at our ACCESS Open Minds (YWHO) hub in Chatham-Kent. Prior to that I worked as a volunteer on the Operations Planning and Facilities Planning Committees, assisting to collect feedback from community agencies to determine what services they could provide in the space and what kind of space they would require. I reached out to families whose loved ones had used mental health and addictions services to determine their needs from the hub and what they wanted the space to look like from a family member or caregiver perspective.
Tell us about how you first came to learn about the youth hub
I came to hear about the youth hub as I was supporting in a volunteer peer role the families whose loved ones had used our community’s first-episode psychosis intervention program, TNT (Today Not Tomorrow). I was excited to become involved when I understood that the hub was aiming to meet real needs of the families and their loved ones who were struggling. Early intervention, a one-stop shop, and the wrap around support were similar features of the successful TNT program, and the ability to return to the hub for services down the road made sense and seemed like the warm welcoming hug families were looking for in their often lonely and long journey.
What has been your experience with the youth hub?
Growing with the hub from its earliest days has been truly exciting! To witness the collaboration that occurs in order to provide the best support to youth and their families shows the heart and commitment of those who work at the hub. In the daily impromptu meetings and regular huddles with community partners, the gaps in community mental health services are discovered, in real time, and often discussions follow as to how they can be addressed so that the hub delivers on its promises to be all it can be for families. In one meeting as a result of looking more closely at the current pathway to psychiatry, the pathway was shortened, resulting in reduced wait times – a reason to celebrate the power of synergistic thinking!
Families express gratitude that the hub exists in our community, that it is a friendly atmosphere, a cool space that their loved one wants to visit and that welcomes families back whenever a new challenge presents itself. Families feel they are part of a circle of care who seek their input so everyone feels heard and welcome.
When the hub demonstrates that it aims to address their family’s real needs, families have confidence that the system is improving, and often want to become a part of the change, going on to advocate at a family council level, and beyond, in some cases.
What has having the youth hub meant to your child and to your family?
From the perspective of my role as a mother and grandmother, I am confident that should our children and grandchildren need to use ACCESS Open Minds’ services in the future, it will be a place that has evolved from what it is even today, as the needs of our community’s families change. It means that the partnerships between the hub and its community partners will continue to be strengthened, that the hub is a wonderful start to the mental health journey, and that staff who assist in the early days of the journey will have a good knowledge of the next steps, both, within the hub, or outside it. Above all else, it makes me thankful that our small community of Chatham-Kent can deliver the kinds of services larger communities do, just on a smaller scale, as the hub remains open to improving what it offers families.
What would you say to other parents or caregivers whose child might be struggling and who are not sure how to support them?
One message I always reiterated to families whose loved ones were struggling was to hold onto hope for their loved one, that help is there and there are those who care, that they have come to the right place. The bump in the road is not the end of the road, and having a life worth living is possible. As well, I would encourage the family member to be sure to take care of themselves in order that they can be the best support possible for their loved one (the airplane oxygen mask analogy).
I encourage families to remember that just as the journey is a difficult one for them, so too, is that of their loved one. To show compassion and to validate the experiences and feelings of their loved one helps the entire family lessen their suffering as they go forward together to better health. Something that surprised me was that often when the family member reached out for help for themselves, it normalized help seeking, and often the loved one followed at some point to seek services for themselves. This gave hope to the family member that they were on the right track, that taking care of their own mental health mattered and made a difference in their loved one’s journey.
Stay tuned for another blog in this series and check out our previous posts about youth voices in mental health, Supporting youth mental health in New Brunswick and Connecting culture and wellness in Eskasoni First Nation.
The $10 million national Bell-Graham Boeckh Foundation Partnership was launched in March 2020 to help accelerate the delivery of mental health and wellness services through Integrated Youth Services (IYS) hubs across Canada. To learn more about how IYS hubs are helping young Canadians get the support they need, watch this video.
Join in on Bell Let’s Talk Day, January 26!
On Bell Let’s Talk Day, Bell donates 5 cents to Canadian mental health programs for every applicable text, local or long distance call, tweet or TikTok video using #BellLetsTalk, every Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube view of the Bell Let’s Talk Day video, and every use of the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook frame or Snapchat lens. All at no cost to participants beyond what they would normally pay their service provider for online or phone access. Learn more at Bell.ca/LetsTalk.