Stories to Inspire

A new collaborative tool—the first of its kind in Canada—has been introduced in Winnipeg to help connect foster children, youth aging out of the child welfare system and at-risk families.

CarePortal officially launched Nov. 14 at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. About 200 people from local churches, child welfare and community agencies, along with members of the public, gathered to find out more about a new partnership between the city’s faith basedcommunity and various child welfare organizations. There were also people watching via social media from across Canada and MLAs Janice MorleyLecomte and Andrew Micklefield attended.

The event was organized and facilitated by Forever Families of Canada, national bridgebuilding charity which assists Canadian churches to care for vulnerable children and families in their communities. “When I see this group, I see a wealth of gifts and abilities, potential and a lot of vision,” said Wendi Park, executive director of Forever Families of Canada and the Canadian Liaison for CarePortal.

The theme of the event was the question “Who Cares?” “We invited you with a question—“Who cares? It is so exciting to see this room filled with people who care,” Park told the audience. Park said that people coast to coast are interested in launching their own CarePortals, and the idea is catching on across the United States. “Not because it’s a quick fix but because it’s a tool we can use to connect people.”

CarePortal is a website and online tool that allows churches, child serving organizations or non-profits to work with child welfare to help children and families in need. If a child welfare professional identifies a need for a child or family, a caseworker can submit a request into CarePortal’s platform, which then sends a message to participating churches.

Then, each church can respond directly back to the caseworker when they are able to meet the need, or they can engage other churches and community partners who want to help. Common requests include beds, clothing, school supplies, bus passes or car seats.

However, the intent is for CarePortal partners to move beyond practical needs to addresses relational poverty, equipping them to be caring communities for children and families in need of connection and supports.

On the night of the CarePortal launch party, 13 Winnipeg churches already had already signed up, and two have been piloting the program since May. Before any church or other organization can sign on to be part of CarePortal, they are required to undergo training with the CareWell Academy. The Academy also provides ongoing resources and assistance to the churches and organizations. Core competency courses include trauma, Indigenous awareness and poverty. “It is going to help support and equip the CarePortal churches,” said Alison Wells-Dyck, the CareWell Academy co-ordinator. “We know people care. Our goal is to provide support and encourage people to move from just being consciously compassionate to competently compassionate so we have gathered together a team of experts with a variety of backgrounds to make up the CareWell Academy team.”

CarePortal isn’t a quick fix, Park noted, but it is a good tool “to connect people. If you took an inventory of the people in this room, the qualities we have…we are a rich country. And yet, there are preventable family breakdowns. All around us, our nation is in crisis,” said Park. “It [solving the problem] certainly isn’t working in isolation…It’s going to take relationships, rolling up our sleeves. Not only do I think we can do it, we are doing it. We are seeing success again and again,” she said.

Pastor Peter Todd of Gateway Church, one of the participating Winnipeg churches, said he was celebrating “a new level of working together with CFS and other child welfare agencies who are on the front line of caring for families and children.”

The event also featured a panel discussion with Lisa Hamm (CarePortal’s regional manager), Sandee Harder (Safe Families) WellsDyck and Norlyn Ritchie, CEO of Winnipeg Child and Family Services. Harder of Safe Families, an organization that temporarily hosts children and provides a network of support to families in crisis, said she has seen the work that CarePortal has done up close, and has found it an amazing tool. “The response has been overwhelmingly quick, that’s the part that’s so beautiful.” Harder said some requests from families are being fulfilled within a day or two.

“We are all working together.” Ritchie said the collaboration between the organizations has been what helped make it work. “Families are complicated and every family has its own challenges, needs and complications. We certainly do not believe that we are the answer, but collectively we can be.”

The event also featured Indigenous fancy dancer Rayne from Saskatchewan and a photo booth where people could take photos of themselves showing they care and they are “in” to help CarePortal that could be posted on social media. For more, please visit Careportal.ca.