Approximately 150 individuals attended the 18th annual Consultation on Chilliwack’s Children, held recently at Sardis Secondary School, sponsored by the Chilliwack Child and Youth Committee (CYC). The event is aptly named and themed Action Builds Community, and every year it’s an opportunity for those from the community and child and youth serving agencies to come together to communicate, collaborate, and connect.
Attendees came from a variety of organizations and disciplines such as: Ministry of Children and Family employees, community partners from Community Services, Xyolhemeyth, Ann Davis, the Child Development Centre, School district staff, as well as the University of the Fraser Valley, faith community, and Fraser Health Authority among others. Essentially, anyone interested in the health, safety, welfare and well-being of the children and youth who call Chilliwack home. One of the things I really admire about this event is the level of youth engagement and involvement. Adolescents from the various high schools were present all day – attending the workshops, facilitating small groups during the consultation portion, and providing their unique perspective. In fact, many of the youth there belong to groups at their schools created to decrease stigma and build awareness of mental health issues.
The day began with a meet and munch which was a great opportunity to reconnect, peruse the information and community booths, create awareness of local programs and services, answer questions, and network. Participants then attended 1 of 4 different workshops, with topics ranging from mental health literacy to deep democracy, building an inclusive community to working collaboratively with families.
I was fortunate to attend Dan Reist’s presentation on Mental Health Literacy in the classroom. He is the assistant director at UVIC’s Centre for Addictions Research of BC. I left his workshop with the following thoughts: It’s not about repairing the weaknesses, it’s about focusing on and enhancing the positive and strengths in a person; it’s about changing the environment, not blaming the child when it comes to social concerns like drugs, mental health, etc; it’s about building competencies, building connections, applying a health lens to everything in a school or community including structures, policies, and programs, and then becoming interested and truly considering the impact any action could have on the health of the child or adolescent.
After the workshops, a break allowed for more networking, booth perusing, and information sharing, before we met as a larger group for the Consultation portion from the Child and Youth Committee. Dan Bibby, manager of operations for MCFD Chilliwack/Fraser Cascade introduced this portion of the event and spoke of how the CYC (comprised of 14 agencies with various sub-committees) is unique to Chilliwack, and spends time trying to identify and rectify gaps in services for children, youth, and their families. A few years ago a gap was identified in the early years (0-5 years old), and subsequently it became a huge focus, so much so that every Child and Youth Mental Health team for MCFD has a designated early childhood clinician. Now, the middle years (6-12 years old) has shifted into focus. Rob Skinner from Youth Services and Ron Plowright from the Fraser Health Authority were instrumental in leading the youth event that was a precursor to this event, and they asked the attending youth the following question: “What do you wish adults had known about you during your middle years?” They then led us in a similar exercise, after which we met in small groups (facilitated by youth) to discuss the youth’s responses. Two themes that continued to arise out of the various discussions were: doing everything earlier (have those tough conversations, whether they are about sex, drugs, or mental health, earlier than you think you need to); and understand the role and implications of social media (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, MySpace, Nexopia, etc). The hope is that awareness was created that will inform our programs and services as well as positively impact our relationships with this age group moving forward.
After lunch everyone congregated for the keynote address. Dr. Rob Lees introduced Dr. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, a developmental psychologist from HELP (Human Early Learning Partnership), an interdisciplinary research institute housed at UBC, who spoke about Middle Childhood Inside and Out (the psychological and social world of children, ages 9-12). The following points stood out to me from her presentation (and I love how they tie in with other topics we have written about in the past like Resiliency, Developmental Assets, etc):
• This age range is pivotal in terms of preventing problems and influencing future direction
• Don’t just tell kids about the birds and bees, they want to know about the consequences too
• Help children cultivate an attitude of gratitude (volunteer, random acts of kindness, helping out at home), as research shows it can actually improve happiness
• Foster Resiliency in our children by means of building self-efficacy, optimism, and courage, and by having supportive adults at home and school and a positive peer group
• Children want two main things: to feel competent and to feel cared for
And we were left with the following questions:
• What are the differences that make a difference?
• How can we help children feel more supported and experience success?
• What can we do to lead children on a positive path towards becoming contributing citizens of tomorrow?
The day concluded with a question and answer period and a round of thank yous for all those involved. I wonder what the 19th annual consult will hold… But before that look forward to upcoming columns from Marie and Rob, sharing about the workshops each of them attended in more detail.
And as Dr. Schonert-Reichl quoted, remember that “Every child needs someone in their life who is absolutely crazy about them.”
Eryn Wicker (M.A., R.C.C) is a mental health clinician with the Child and Youth Mental Health team of the Ministry of Children and Family Development in Chilliwack, B.C..