Stories to Inspire

CFS clients learn cooking, life skills

It’s a bright and chilly January Thursday, but things are warm and bustling inside the Carman United Church hall, where several in-home support workers from CFS of Central Manitoba are gathered with a group of clients, preparing a meal together.

The meal is a hearty slow-cooker stew, made of potatoes, onions and sausages. The clients come together to learn how to prepare the food, and then they take the finished product home to their families that evening. Mothers, fathers and daughters work side by side at a long table outside of the hall’s kitchen, peeling potatoes, chopping onions and sausages, and sharing tips about handling busy lives with children.

The hall is cozy and bright and filled with light chatter and lots of laughter.

This innovative meal-preparation program was launched by Child & Family Services of Central Manitoba last year, as part of its efforts to expand the types of services available to families who are receiving in-home support. At each session, participants cook one or more meals to take home, and they also get to keep some of the cooking equipment. Food is donated by several local grocery stores and tends to be simple, basic ingredients such as potatoes which can be stretched out for several meals and bought cheaply. The group also goes home after each session with a book of recipes.

It’s one thing to encourage clients to cook nutritious meals for their families, but if they don’t have the food to do so, or the cooking utensils and pans, it’s not going to happen, says Sharon Dueck, the in-home support worker leading Central CFS’s cooking program.

“Often when we go into homes, they are not providing for basic needs—because they can’t,” says Dueck.

The idea came out of a weekend retreat for women who are involved in the CFS system. The retreat has been held each fall at Camp Arnes, Man., but the organizers realized there was a need for those who were involved with the system to have an ongoing support group program that went on throughout the year.

The first session was held in winter 2016 and was extremely successful, Dueck says. And it’s not just for women—dads and other family members attend as well. “Every parent who came was saying I still use this or that recipe, or I love that frying pan.”

Dueck also finds the relaxed setting provides a way for parents and caregivers who may be feeling isolated to get together for support. She says one mother who came to the retreat years ago and whose file with CFS is closed still attends the group, to act as kind of a mentor for other parents.

It’s good to connect with others who are in the same boat,” she adds. As well, being in a group “doing something with your hands” like cooking makes people a bit more comfortable in terms of opening up and supporting one another.

For those at the January session, it was a chance to get out on a cold mid-winter day. One father said he not only enjoyed cooking but also just sharing some conversation with others. “It’s good to get out of the house and meet new people,” he said.

Another mother who has been to several of the cooking sessions and the women’s retreat said she enjoys the “companionship. Sometimes you learn different things too.”

Some parents have dietary concerns for their children that they find difficult. One mother who has a diabetic child said she has had to re-learn how to cook meals.

Yet another mother said it was nice to have a bit of a break. “I enjoyed getting out and away from my monkeys [children],” she said jokingly, “and taking home a very good meal for them tonight.”

The in-home support worker role arose because social workers can only visit each home so often, says Dueck. And every home has different needs: whether it’s parenting, household management or mental health. They work directly with social workers and take direction on what the family needs from the workers. Most work with about 10 clients at a time.

If it’s a toddler, an in-home support worker will help with parenting skills. If it’s an isolated mom struggling with depression, the support worker will go into the home to check in on her, and if possible get her out into the community.

Workers will also drive clients to doctors’ appointments or addictions treatments, since many people in rural areas may not have access to a vehicle.

In-home support worker Jamie Mackinnon, who has been in the role eight years, says that while in-home support workers may assist some people for a month or so, other families need more guidance and can have the worker for a year or more.

In-home support workers even assist families in filling out forms for things like Manitoba Housing. “We help them through it,” emphasizes Mackinnon, adding that part of the role is teaching families to learn how to do things for themselves. “Doing it for them is not letting them learn.”

In-home support is also there to help families with the reunification process—if children have been taken into the care of CFS and are being returned to their families, the support workers are working with the parents in the home to prepare them to have the children there. In-home support works alongside social workers during this process.

After reunification, says Mackinnon, in-home support workers generally continue to visit the family for several weeks or months.

In-home support also helps people build their community connections, she says, or keeps an eye out for post-partum depression.
As for Dueck, coming from a background in education to this was a switch, but one she enjoys.

“The variability…you never know what you are going to be doing from one day to the next. I like the creativity.”

She also likes the helping aspect.

“What I enjoy is when I see the changes [a family makes].”