Tracy is a Family Support Worker in the Clinical Consultations Unit. “I like my job because it’s proactive,” she says. When the Halton CAS opens a file, Tracy receives a referral to provide family support at home. She works with families on parenting practices, child management, time management, parent confidence, finances, negotiating co-parenting, sibling rivalry, and single parenting. She develops plans with parents to deal with their children in more effective ways.”
“We do a lot of relationship-building,” she says. “Often when parents struggle with children it’s because their relationships are off track, so we cover steps to re-build their rapport with positive communication and one-on-one time together. I observe the family interaction so that I can make suggestions. For example, I’ll observe an access visit, to give the family specific feedback so they can gather skills that will allow the child to go home.”
“I started out at as a child and youth worker in a children’s residence for children with mental health diagnoses. Later I worked in a classroom setting that addressed the mental health and behavioural issues children struggle with at school. From there I moved into the Family Support Program, and I’ve been in this role 11 years.”
“Sometimes parents are initially reluctant and can resist support. Often the only experience they have with the Society has been with protection workers. They worry about having their children taken away. They often question suggestions at the onset of my involvement. By the time I’m ready to step away though, they’re saying ‘please don’t close the file, I don’t want to lose this support in our home, it’s really helped.’ My relationship is very different from the protection workers. It’s a very supportive role. Often in the end parents see the value. Things in their home are visibly better.”
“A lot of times the parents I work with are very isolated. When I come out they have someone they can vent to. Together we create realistic plans, starting with small things and progressing towards the end goals, like rolling a snowball and allowing the family to evolve.”
“Sometimes, for a single parent, the biggest issue is time. They are trying to do everything and finding one-on-one time with a child seems daunting, but even ten minutes of focus can make a difference, so we work on time management and we find ten minutes.
“I talk to parents about teachable moments with children. Times have changed. There’s a shift in what society is okay with when it comes to parenting practises. Even for my generation, a spanking wouldn’t have been a big deal, whereas now society recognizes the impact corporal punishment has on children.
“There are a lot of parents caught in the trap—they recognize the need to discipline their children, but often don’t know what else to do. I talk to parents about teaching through supervision of everyday routines, by catching kids when they’re doing things right and offering praise, or stopping kids to correct an undesirable behaviour in the moment. This allows children to learn self control and impulse control. That seems to resonate with parents.”
“We talk about what’s going well in the home and what’s not. What are their biggest struggles? What they know to be true for their families. When I develop a relationship with a family they are able to trust the feedback, they talk freely, and they can make significant gains. Most often when I close a case there have been huge changes for the better.”
“There’s more than one kind of success. Sometimes I see parents who’ve had a lot of trauma in their own lives and it has great impact on their parenting. Success then may come in the form of an adoption. Working with parents to develop their parenting skill set often gives them enough knowledge that the family can stay together. This process takes time but it allows the Society to understand how they’ve arrived where they are, and recognize why they parent as they do.”
“Here’s a success story. One family I work with is on a long journey. There are two children. Mom is a single parent and very ill; she needs dialysis three days a week. Rightfully, she finds this an exhausting process. She’s a newcomer to Canada, and she’s estranged from an abusive husband. The Society received reports concerning the children. Discipline is different where they come from. Mom has no family or friends from home to support her here. “CAS brought in family support for her, established a care plan, helped with her medical needs, and made daycare and transportation arrangements for her children. We arranged for the children to be in camps during the summer, while we helped mom learn about parenting in Canada. The family has strengthened their relationships with one another. These supports have allowed the children to remain at home with their mother in spite of her illness. We no longer hear concerns about the children.“
“People respond very well to an open, honest dialogue about their family.” In my role I have a respectful relationship with parents. At the end of the day I may not be able to say they can meet the needs of their children, but I want to involve them in planning for the best interests of their children regardless of what the outcome might be. My job is looking after the whole family, not just the children. I am proud of all the families I work with. It’s very rewarding for me to see their hard work and efforts come back to them in the form of a contented family unit.”