From the media and from reports of all kinds, we know that mental health needs are mushrooming everywhere—in our communities, workplaces, schools, faith communities and neighbourhoods. The needs around us seem to both multiply and intensify. That’s why I’m gratified by two indications that Shalem is expanding its reach as we seek to play our part in attempting to help meet these needs.
First, I’m delighted to announce a new service at Shalem. Effective in February 2016, Shalem has added a service called “Family Group Decision-Making” to our roster of supports for families in need. This is one pillar of a new “Restorative Families” service offered by Shalem—a joint, collaborative effort between our Restorative Practice and our Counselling Centres programs. The second pillar has already been quietly developing: the facilitation of restorative practice conversations with families who are struggling with past harm or hurt, usually in conjunction with therapy.
With Family Group Decision-Making, when a child or youth is about to become a permanent ward of the state, extensive efforts are made to locate extended family members and bring them all together. Then, at a meeting involving everyone, the strengths of the family are described and the safety concerns for the child or youth are identified. All of the professionals leave the room and the family is left on its own to try to come up with a plan for the care of the child (they may call in the professionals as consultants if they wish). If the plan satisfies the identified safety concerns, it is typically approved by the court. Family Group is a relatively new approach, but its outcomes for safety, family reunification and permanency for the child are far better than any other intervention in child welfare.
Shalem therapist Bernadine Togeretz is certified through the George Hull Centre in Toronto as a Family Group Facilitator and Consultant. As a beginning, Bernadine will move her current private practice work with the Brant Children’s Aid Society in Family Group Decision-Making under Shalem’s umbrella. The service may expand from there. By no means does Family Group work need to be confined to child welfare. Family Group Decision-Making can be used for a wide variety of family planning needs, such as planning for the care of aging parents, reintegrating a family member from military deployment, or planning for family members with medical, mental health or other special needs.
Family Group Decision-Making is considered a “restorative practice” and fits squarely within Shalem’s Vision and Mission. Our former “Hosting Program” (2007-2013), where faith communities “host” the restorative, reconciliation practices in their local communities, hosted Family Group Decision-Making meetings throughout central Ontario. Our focus at Shalem is to create new, innovative partnerships between the professional mental health sector and communities. At the heart of Family Group practice is a paradigm shift, a shift of power from professionals to families. Family Group privileges the “local knowledge” and expertise of families. No wonder it is so successful!
Watch for more about “Restorative Families” on our website, and in a future issue of the Networker.
A second indication of the expanded reach of Shalem’s supports is apparent in our client numbers. The dramatic increases from 2013 to 2015 speak for themselves.Let me offer a couple of explanatory notes. The increase in the number of Restorative Practice trainings and decrease in the number of circles is a positive, hopeful development. It reflects a shift of Shalem helping to build the capacity of schools, churches and workplaces to nurture and develop healthy relationships themselves, on their own, with our support. Secondly, the high number of WrapAround families is significant because in 2015, for the first time, we no longer count the number of families worked with through the Chatham-Kent WrapAround program, a program which is now thriving on its own. These 43 WrapAround families are supported through our volunteer-based, volunteer-driven WrapAround Hamilton program—an extraordinary accomplishment!
We give thanks for the increasing opportunities to us to serve—and for your support to help make them happen.
Mark Vander Vennen, MA, M.Ed, R.S.W., is Shalem’s Executive Director