Family Connections helps to strengthen and preserve healthy relationships between parents and children, increase family functioning, and provide counselling, support and assistance during periods of crisis. The program works closely with the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD), Child and Youth Mental Health, and Fraser Valley Aboriginal Children and Family Services Society (FVACFSS.)
The Family Education program offers a wealth of experience working with families and groups. Facilitators bring insight, information, and humour to psycho-educational parenting courses within a caring and non-judgmental environment. Often, people participating in Family Education are referred by MCFD and FVACFSS but self-referrals for parenting classes are accepted.
Kim Prins, the supervisor of both programs, reported that during the COVID-19 pandemic, parents in Family Connections experienced job loss and couldn’t access community resources they normally utilized. Many were unable to see their children in-person due to self-isolation guidelines and were understandably concerned that progress towards being reunited with their children would be delayed.
Family Education participants were experiencing similar issues, and all were feeling increased stress and loneliness during the pandemic.
Adopting New Methods
COVID-19 has been challenging for everyone, but Kim and the Family Education and Family Connections team saw that clients who were already experiencing challenges might be disproportionately affected. Accordingly, they quickly moved all services online or via telephone, including client and child visits, counselling, outreach meetings and parenting classes.
Recognizing that digital literacy and access to technology differ from client to client, program staff were delighted to discover many people found it easier to engage online or by phone than they had in person. Others who lacked access to technology were provided with access to a physically-distant and regularly cleaned client computer at Archway for virtual visits with their families
In Raising Up a Family Sessions, a program with a focus on local Indigenous culture and parenting staff have also made an incredible transition to offering their services in new ways during the pandemic. Classes have been offered online, culturally appropriate crafts and even 85 meals have been delivered to families. Online sessions have also been facilitated with a drummer from the Sto:lo Nation!
Staff were also able to support people with mental health concerns and expanded their outreach services to include COVID-related anxiety. Additionally, they referred clients to other Archway programs or community organizations who were adapting services during COVID, including Abby Dads, the Family Centre, online doctors, counsellors and online AA meetings
Childcare staff working with the Family Education program have also demonstrated their innovation and kept busy during the pandemic. At a time when no in-person visits were possible, they increased cleaning protocols, donned personal protective equipment (PPE) and created 310 craft kits and 310 snack packs to deliver to the doorsteps of program participants! “We have delivered hundreds of craft and snack kits and done nearly 600km of driving in the process,” shared staff member Freddie.
Adjusting to the ‘New Normal’
As the Province of BC has moved forward into new stages of reopening, so have the Family Connections and Family Education programs.
Ever cautious, staff have resumed conducting supervised visits and counselling with increased cleaning practices and additional PPE. Outreach is also resuming in-person; meetings are conducted in backyards, playgrounds and other safe outdoor spaces where confidentiality can be maintained and PPE is worn.
As of July, Family Education classes began operating in a hybrid model, with physically distant in-person morning sessions and online afternoon sessions. Despite everything going on, clients are still engaging and participating, even maintaining contact with staff if they’re out of the area. For example, one client who is currently in Alberta and unable to get back to BC, is having program information mailed to him and attending classes online.
Kim is pleased to see that educational outcomes of virtual participants are parallel to those of in-person attendees pre-COVID. Interactions between childcare workers and families are also positive. Children report looking forward to snack and craft deliveries and parents appreciate maintaining connections with childcare staff.
Kim and her team look forward to providing more in-person classes and childcare again as the situation improves. They are eager to reconnect face-to-face with participants, offer more programs for people who feel isolated and enable children to interact in-person with safe and healthy protocols in place.
At the same time, they recognize it’s likely programs will never operate in the exact same way they did before the pandemic and are excited to continue exploring how technology can help them deliver services more broadly.
Family Connections, Family Education and their clients have certainly risen to the occasion during an unprecedented situation. They are a testament to the resiliency of people who deal with stress, uncertainty and keep finding new ways to learn, grow, help one another and connect.
“We have delivered hundreds of craft and snack kits and done nearly 600km of driving in the process!”