Stories to Inspire

14th AGM focuses on ‘Promising Practice’

“Promising Practice” was the theme for this year’s General Authority AGM, and speakers shared inspiring stories of key elements of practice that are changing families’ lives for the better.

In his welcoming address to the 14th AGM, Jay Rodgers, Deputy Minister of Families, told those gathered that the GA has spent the past year helping to roll out new programs such as Caring Dads and Safe and Together, as well as working on its proven areas of practice including Safety Networks and Structured Decision Making.

“The General Authority has a long and continuing history of being innovative and your promising practices theme is really appropriate,” Rodgers told the audience of about 140 people at the Norwood Hotel on Sept. 27. Attendees included agency staff, GA board members, Healthy Child Manitoba, CFS Division, other authorities, service providers and community agencies.

“I think that the GA has and continues to be a leader in the child welfare field,” said Rodgers. “You should be proud of that work. …The evolution of Safe and Together, Caring Dads, Family Finding – all have tremendous potential for the whole system to learn from your experience.”

He added that the focus on keeping children safe, at home, is working.

In very recent reports, he said, the statistics for the GA “would suggest that the number of children in care has gone down for a consecutive four months.”

Debbie Besant, CEO of the GA, added that the work that has been done in the past few years by the GA and its agencies and service regions regarding permanency has paid off. “It is the successful integration of our preventative and ongoing work that has led us to the continued reduction of days care and number of children in care for the General Authority.”

“Permanence for children is really critical to the mental wellbeing of our future generations,” she noted.

Following the introductions, program specialist Thomas Ens introduced speakers who shared stories of key elements of practice that have either been introduced or deepened over the past year.

Rhonda Dagg, a leading practice specialist with Rural and Northern, spoke about the Safe and Together domestic violence program which is child-centred and puts the onus on the perpetrator of abuse.

Working through this program with families has been extremely rewarding, Dagg said. She told the story of a family who had already had several years of involvement with CFS regarding domestic violence, when the supervisor and agency decided to utilize the Safe and Together model.

The supervisor and agency helped to work closely with the mother to create a Safety Network, and a separate file was opened on the father. A discussion was held with the mother on ways she had worked to protect her children. Helping to create a safety plan with the mother meant that she could be safe and together with her children while the case is before the court, Dagg said.

The main message that Dagg imparted was that the mother told the agency that for the first time, she had felt “heard” by workers.
“No matter what the out-come, I will always be appreciative of the solid efforts and care and understanding our family has finally been receiving,” the mother had said.

Dagg noted: “Our work in domestic violence is not easy. It’s complex, it’s complicated…and it will be worth it, knowing we have made a difference for children and families where domestic violence is a concern.”

Corinne Benoit, an intake worker with CFS of Western Manitoba, said that Western’s inaugural Caring Dads sessions, held last winter, made real change and impact in the fathers who took the 17-week program. Caring Dads is an intervention program for fathers, stepfathers or common-law partners who have physically, emotionally abused or neglected their children, or have perpetrated against their partners, or are deemed to be at high risk for these behaviours.

She and another facilitator were amazed at the progress and development of many of the participants—from admitting to their behaviours, to recognizing their own emotional traumas and better understanding the impact of their behaviours on their children. Benoit said the difference in some of the men was so profound, it resulted in everything from a CFS case being closed, to men having more regular contact with their children, to healthier parenting, or signing up for counselling.

“I was extremely moved to have been part of helping kids benefit from fathers who were a little more equipped to listen to them, play with them, connect to them and nurture them because of this program, and I am very excited to continue my journey,” Benoit told the AGM.

Another area of enhanced practice within the General Authority is the development of Safety Networks. Meetings are held with families and the people who support them to create a network committed to alleviating CFS worries and keeping children safe during their family’s involvement with CFS. Rachel Smith, a worker with CFS of Central Manitoba, discussed the impacts that Safety Network meetings have had.

“By giving them [families] the power, you also have to be open to trusting the people around the table and that comes from all agreeing to the safety goal we want to reach,” said Smith.

She added, “I am not going to lie and say this process means less work for the worker, but it does allow for a space to empower the family to take on responsibilities and tasks, which in the end hopefully leads to less work, less time in care and allows for files to close.” She noted that for safety networks to work properly, management backing is essential.

“Management needs to support the workers and trust in their work and the process,” she said.

Yet another important piece of practice is lifebook work for children in care. The AGM’s final speaker was Ginger Richards, a regional adoption co-ordinator from Rural and Northern Services, who has been overseeing and training other workers in doing life-books with children and youth in care for many years.

Richards told those gathered about the changes in children and youth she has worked with who have begun the lifebook process. Lifebooks may contain photos, mementos, stories or artwork – but they are created specifically so that children in care may know their stories. Many children that Richards worked with did not even know where they were born, or the name of their fathers.
She and other workers are seeking to change this for as many children as possible in the Rural and Northern agencies.

“A lifebook is one of the most important gifts that we can give our children in care. It holds their life story—a story that can all too often get lost,” Richards said.

The change in many children has been astonishing, Richards said.

“It has been amazing to watch the children grow in such a short time.” She said lifebooks have helped especially in the area of permanency – helping children further their understanding of who they are; and, in some cases, readying children for the adoption process.

Richards said that lifebook work can benefit all children in care. “Information is gold to any child separated from their biological family. Every tiny piece is precious…lifebooks help put all the pieces together in a way that helps a child make sense and ultimately feel good about his or her history.”