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The Importance of Cultural Identity for First Nations, Inuit, and Metis (FYI I do not know)

Hello Frontliners,

I have been involved in a student project in the last month that is about getting money to send some students to NewZealand in order to go see the Maori First Nations.

As I have been reflecting, and trying to obtain the funds for this unique experience, I have been drafting emails and letters trying to explain the importance of providing students the opportunity to get involved in a cultural exchange. The journey of learning about another First Nations Group outside of Canada.

What an idea. But I find it difficult and a sense of guilt when I write these proposals to organizations.

Maybe it should not come from me?

I want to try to empower youth to think critically about their own identity. Non-Indigenous or Indigenous, it is a critical time for youth to experience questions and explore how they see themselves in the world.

I am hoping this journey of fundraising is more than getting the money as a process. I think the students and the group leaders need to have conversations about the importance of experiencing another first nations group? the …so what?

I might have some idea…but because I myself do not identify with being Indigenous, I really do not know.

That is okay…to be humble and not fully understand how young people might be feeling about their identity; especially in cultural settings you do not personally identify with.

However, it is not okay to not allow youth engage in those thoughts with you. If they come to you, it means they want you to listen and validate any feelings that they might be experiencing at the moment.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Marleigh

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Shutting the door on a student, you are closing off communication too.

Hello Frontliners,

I hope everyone is easing back into school mode. On my end, I am getting back into the grind and developing projects and ideas for the New Year. Exciting times!

Anyways, let me pose a question- Do we all know what students go through when they enter a classroom? Do we assume they are ready to learn and conquer the day?!

How about I ask another question….Does it come across our minds that school can be a safe place for them? Maybe on a daily basis they are exposed to violence, abuse, and or unhealthy relationships from their caregivers. Maybe they experience their own internal struggles…

Hard to believe but I have met many students in my career that suggest that they rather be in the classroom than in their own homes.

So why the bloody hell do we sometimes make it difficult for them?

About a week in a half ago, I heard from a couple of colleagues that one of the teachers refused to open the door for the student because he was about 5 minutes late. Now, there are a couple of schools of thought that you might be pondering about in response to this situation…

  1. “It is a great practice because it teaches the student about time management skills and not to be late for class in the future” 
  2. “It does not allow the student to communicate his rationale for his lateness”  
  3. ” If we do not teach students how to be punctual, how will they survive in the real world? When they start to work? We might be setting them up for failure.” 
  4. “That is unfair- the teacher did not ask why the student was late!” 
  5. ” Did the teacher set his expectations out before and the student was late anyways?”

Lets go back to this situation- that same day the student messaged me and expressed how he was tired of hearing his parents yelling at each other at 6 am in the morning.

The door was shut on him. He was not allowed back in the classroom and decided to leave the school and skip all his classes.

Now, how did I feel? Personally, when I heard about this, I was really livid and full of steam. I felt like it was unethical and inappropriate for an educator to do such a thing. I was ready to go to the union about this sort of practice.

By his morning incident, am I saying was this an appropriate excuse to be late for an afternoon class? This is the trick question…..

It is a grey area- the educator did not know about his morning and nor did the student tell him about his morning. Nor should he have to though. Nonetheless, he shut the door without any opportunity to communicate.

What would it look like if there was communication between the two parties? What would it look like if the teacher asked him to stay after school and asked him a couple of questions about his lateness?

We might get answers and we might not, but inquiring about a student’s lateness shows compassion. I believe this comes before we motivate a student to learn about time management or responsibility. The student sees emotional investment and is willing to start to feel safe in their own space to learn and make mistakes.

Do not shut the door on a student- you are missing critical relational opportunities!

Thanks for reading,

Marleigh

Our Role: In times, we control the backstage

Hello Frontliners,

Happy September- Exciting month for Teachers, Educators, Support staff, and Child and Youth Care Practitioners to start a new school year.

I had a recent discussion with a co-worker earlier this week about therapeutic relationship. There was a situation where a young person was determined to need extra support and was referred to a support worker. However, it was evident that the young person did not feel a connection with this particular support person. Now, if we were down in the south (the cities and areas with more access and frontliners per square km haha) then the answer I would have said is “That is fine, maybe we can discover more options for this young person.” Since we are in the North, resource and support people are quite limited.

Clearly, we cannot fire the support person because there is no present moment connection with the young person. Clearly, we cannot stop support and tell the young person to “deal with their problems.” So, what do you do as a frontline?

Do you remove yourself?

Do you just hope to hell that the community will take over and care of this young person?

Do you pawn all your responsibilities on an external community partner?

There is an assumption that all frontliners that work with young people have this magical power to connect with every young person they ever work with. Although, as a profession we carry certain character traits that make young people have an easier time to approach us, we cannot assume that the young person will “like us” or “trust us.” Part of relationship building (similar to many other frontliners), relational care is a process. We are not entitled to have the young person’s trust or respect, we are privileged once we do make that connection.

Going back to the situation. Direct care is a wraparound service. We might try different contexts to connect with the young person, but the reality is it might not work. So, the question we need to propose is: Who is the individual? teacher, extended family member, another peer that is able to have that connection? and what is their need? Once we investigate these questions, then we begin to form wraparound services. We might be the ones not directly doing one to one but we control the backstage- we might do the investigation, coordinate meetings with different parties, or monitor/follow-up on their progress.

Nonetheless, we are always present! We are still part of the young person’s support network.  We just need to find more creative and flexible ways to engage in the therapeutic process.

Thanks for reading! Have a great long weekend 🙂

Marleigh

A Frontliner’s realization to heal.

Hello Frontliners,

I hope everyone is enjoying their summer. Mine was officially over two weeks ago, so it is time for me to head back and be the best I can be in order to help support the children and youth.

However, I would like to bring up a very important topic for my fellow frontliners.

Many of us work in settings with young people that deal with trauma every single day. For us, although we might not be directly impacted or involved in their trauma, we are indirectly absorbed by it. Hearing the pain and sometimes suffering our young people go through on a day to day basis can put an emotional toll on a helper’s mind, body, and soul.

I say this to be self-aware of how your body and your mind is reacting.

I also say this because I went through this first hand for the last few months.

When I came back to my hometown for summer vacation, my body physically and mentally started to shut down. What is shut down? My appetite was off, I was not able to sleep, my digestive felt like it was kicking me, and I was so negative about everything.  What I was told when I consulted a few people about my issue was: “Marleigh you were finally in a safe place, relaxed to the point that your body was able to really respond from the last couple of months.” I did not understand: could the body be so powerful that it knows when it needs to survive during crisis and when it is time to shut down?

Answer is simply yes.

Through consulting with a few professionals in my own field and other fields; such as, my Naturopath; it was determined that I had symptoms of vicarious trauma (second hand trauma).

Through much reflection, I needed to accept these feelings and at the same time do something about them. I was not ready to go back to work and I dreaded my friends asking me when I was going back to work.

“Can’t you just enjoy me at the present moment, why are you planning my departure already?” I was frustrated and I reacted aggressively; however, at that moment, I realized I was not taking steps to heal. I was not happy and I was not ready to face my own reality.

It was so hard to admit help. I advocate for mental health services all the time, but for awhile I felt shame and guilt that going to another counselor would mean I was not competent enough in my own job. The ego is quite annoying, it creeps up and questions you but at the end of the day, do I want to work on my self-esteem or let myself go into burnout mode???

So many damn questions.

Finally, the best decision for myself, my students, my co-workers would be to heal. What is healing? sometimes we tend to associate it with self-care….honestly I am not sure what that really means though…

I will define healing as a journey to self love and self awareness. Understanding, we are holistic beings: we take care of ourselves spiritually, mentally, and physically. So, thats what I vow to do.

Here are some ways I am doing so:

  1. Setting boundaries (work life balance)…. I am more than Marleigh the Child and Youth Care Practitioner
  2. Acknowledging my limits in my friendships and relationships (Where does my energy go?)
  3. Going back to my hobbies and side projects that do are not the definition of my career
  4. Seeing a professional and seeking resources and strategies
  5. Reaching out to my friends and family when I need help.

Seems a lot and if you ask me if it is working? I will answer you by saying: I hope it will but I am just living and experiencing one day at a time. Do the best I can do.

I hope this encourages other frontliners to think and feel more. We are humans that work with other humans: lets not ignore this. We are more likely to take in energy rather expel energy.

Looking forward to the healing journey- Thanks for reading.

Marleigh

Celebrating events in the midst of Loss, Grief, and Trauma?

Hello Frontliners,

As we are in the middle of June, many things growing up comes to mind: better weather, almost the end of school for so many students, and for many high school students in grade 12 (Ontario) or in Secondary 5 ( Quebec), are graduating. What a feeling, family and friends are rejoiced by the energy, the pride they carry for their kid, and the excitement and anxiety for what is to come after secondary.

Putting into context, imagine at the micro level that you find out a family or friend that you cherish passes away on your graduation or your child’s graduation…would you still celebrate, would you still attend? Now, at a small community level, the impact is much more stronger and emotions and feelings are collective.

I feel at moments I am still not good at balancing my emotions since working in a smaller community. Maybe it is because I know everyone and It is easy to sense the energy at a short distance. However, as we went through many downs in the last month; accidents, to suicide, to death by natural causes, we still had this great graduation approaching for our secondary 5 students.

Despite all of this, community members gave the school the blessing to continue on with graduation. Why?

What I would like to maybe express is that as a frontline, attending my student’s graduation was healing. “Finally something we can all celebrate this event in a positive way.” Seeing accomplishment, seeing perseverance, seeing strength….

I am not saying having the graduation was a way to avoid what I was feeling, but it was a way to restart my heart again, to remind myself of my positive interactions with my students, to remember that my job is both emotional draining yet joyful all in one. In my mind, it is okay to celebrate but that might be how I deal with my own pain.

Front liners or young people that we support; the way we might deal with grief or loss at the moment is different for everybody. It is important that we do not judge nor dictate how one should grieve.

Nonetheless, the question that should be asked is whether the grieving is done in a healthy way? Is there addictions, Is there young people who you identify that might not have the appropriate supports? Are we providing resources in a timely manner? Questions to ponder…

I would like to say thank you all for reading my blogs for the year. I will restart back in August when I return back to work. Do not hesitate to email me at marpirnasar@gmail.com if you have any topic ideas.

Have a safe summer 🙂

Marleigh

 

Child Advocacy meets Caregiver Substance Abuse

Hello Frontliners,

Coming back from an exciting couple of weeks! Presented at the BC National Child and Youth Care Conference while sharing  tools and strategies that are field has worked so hard to create and facilitate. I went to Pingulait Park for the girls basketball team as part of an anti-bullying project.

Many themes have come up for me. One of which is advocacy work with young people. As I was hearing some inspiring speakers on topics of mobilization, community engagement, and youth voice. I became to reflect on what happened about 3 weeks ago.

I did not want to talk about it via this blog but I think it has been on my mind for too long, so for my own sanity it is better that I write.

In the last couple of months, I have two students who are under the age of 12 who have been witnessing caregiver substance abuse. Teachers, administrators, and other support staff came to me to mention the behaviour and emotional change they have seen in these two girls.

Instead of reporting this to Youth Protection, I wanted to talk to the parents to bring light with some of the issues that their girls are dealing with at school. In the meeting, I addressed the excessive alcohol in the household; however, being mindful of any embarrassment, guilt, or shaming. One of the hardest things I had to do as a frontline. In the middle of the meeting, the parents were also reminded about different services that may exist within the community and different people that can be of great resources.

Despite the self-awareness and maintaining a compassionate stance in the issue of alcoholism and child fatigue, the meeting was still hard to swallow. Although, I am an advocate for young people, I felt like I was invading a family affair.

Then I question….

What do we do this job for? to let young people suffer or to be the voice of young people when they are in the most vulnerable situations? I feel like I would do a disservice by just letting this behaviour keep going without any notice. I am here for the students, and sometimes we frontliners are in a situation that often involve mirroring the truth.

We never just ever work with the young person, we are consistently supporting or engaging their social systems in order to provide appropriate and effective interventions.

Thanks for reading,

Marleigh

 

Frontline Workers Need Time to Grieve too!

Hello Frontliners,

Well it been two weeks that one of my students passed away.

It was definitely hard for me, more so living in a small community where you see your students everyday and everywhere: shopping centre, walking, school, gym, and arena. When I heard the news, the emotions I felt were intense. The connection was deep. The energy within the community was vibrating.

Despite all what was happening on that day, reflecting during my spring break two weeks later, I wish that I was given more time to grieve. Instead, with the nature of our field being so resilient and strong, we are expected to acknowledge what happened, cry for a few hours, and get back on the floor to perform.

I have mixed feelings about this….

On the one hand, I feel like we need to take action to ensure the students understand that we are here for them through the grieving process. If we prolong acknowledging the initial grieving stage, I believe we are not preventing early signs of triggering emotions other students might be experiencing. So, frontline workers need to be there to respond.

On the other hand, how effective is a frontliners’ duties when we are not having the time to grieve and reflect?

Reflection on the memories and interactions we had with this young person.

Reflection on the impact the young person had on the community

Reflection on our own practice

Then one might ask: what is the best timeline for a frontliner to grieve before being available for other young people in need? I am not sure, to be honest, but I do not think it should be a couple of hours.

During that emotional day and the whole week, It was go go go…NO Regrets, I had the opportunity to talk to many young people and I felt our connections and bonds were much closer. However, through all that, after two weeks of his tragic death, I now have the opportunity to sit with my thoughts and truly reflect.

Just wish it happened sooner.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Marleigh

A Basketball Tournament that made me reflect on Sports and Mental Health

 

What a huge hiatus with my writing. Sometimes I find it difficult to balance a full time job, ensuring you are personally well (Self-Care), and other obligations.

Anyways, here we are and I am really excited to be writing on this topic. A week ago, myself and a great school team hosted a friendship game tournament that would allow another community to come and play basketball for the weekend. Along with sports, we incorporated wellness topics. One topic we wanted to put in there was sports and mental health.

It s a forgotten area of mental health that seems to be forgotten. Believing athletes are trained to always maintain mental composure and endurance. Not true.

We have seen many athletes who are now opening to having and coping with their mental health on social media; such as, NBA players, football players, and olympic athletes. Some like Clara Hughes advocate for mental health through Bell Lets Talk because of her own personal journey that involved her struggles and resiliency.

However, I would like to argue that this form of prevention should be taught in young people. There is this idea that when young people play sports, they are playing for fun. Although, there are cases of that, there are young people that put a lot of pressure on themselves to perform.

We call this performance anxiety.

Going back to the tournament, as a coach for the girls basketball team, I sat with all my girls various times to discuss and talk about the emotions that may appear during the tournament. I posed some questions to them:

  1. What happens if we lose?
  2. Is there such a thing as being scared on the court?
  3. What should we do if we feel these uncomfortable emotions on game day?

At the end of the conversation I validated any emotions that they might be feeling during the weekend.

It was a great reminder for me as a coach and a mental health worker that in moments of competition, we cannot assume a young person will be ready to perform. We cannot assume they have their sh*t together and will ignore all their emotions for a couple of games.

As a said in my workshop, the beginning steps of mental health is this- having a conversation.

Thanks for reading,

Marleigh

Basketball Tournament

Do I press charges on this young person? Compassion or Reality or Both….

Hello frontliners,

Some background context: A 12 year old young person gets angry because he was consequenced for bullying another child from the computer station. His reaction towards his teacher was physical; he pulled the teacher’s hair and slapped the teacher in the face.

The teacher was shaken up and the young 12 year old boy gets sent home with a out of school suspension until an action plan is developed from myself, the school, and other community partners. After the incident, the teacher approached me and debriefed me on the events and asked me about my thoughts.

As I have a good relationship with this 12 year old boy, one of my suggestion was to charge him. Okay so now, you are probably reading this and thinking, “Marleigh what kind of therapeutic suggestion is that?”  This specific child had prior violent acts, but in this scenario it went a level higher by slapping and pulling hair.  Without getting into too much of his family background and his personal profile, lets just focus on his action.

Now let me ask you, what are we teaching the young person if we do not do something about the assault behaviour? What if we decide to let the young person go? Forgive and Forget ? Maybe Marleigh you can just do a restorative circle when he comes back from his suspension (Yes! A great reintegration idea).

Sure… I can for expressing emotions and feelings from all parties…

Still, we are not addressing the behaviour…

He was cognizant to hit and pull, so I beg the question whether intervening with the law might be seen as a teachable moment?

Much can come from this experience:

  1. Education of how certain rules are in place to ensure every human being is safe
  2. Understanding that hurting another human being is not acceptable
  3. A potential gateway to more resources and treatment opportunities for the student and their family
  4.  To learn about the court system
  5. To reflect on the process and the harm it has caused for all parties (himself, family, teacher, etc…)

If you choose or choose not to charge a young person, try to reflect on the following?

  1. If we do not stop this behaviour at 12, will the behaviour begin to increase in a negative way when he becomes an adult?
  2. Can we look at law enforcement or law-type interventions as an ally to a child or youth’s social and emotional development?
  3. If charges are laid, am I prepared as a frontline to start working through the feelings and emotions the young person might be experiencing rather leaving them alone to deal with the stigma this may cause. Stigma in their own identity and within how the community might perceive the situation.

In this scenario, we need to have the balance between compassion and reality in my opinion. Part of our frontline duties sometimes is to facilitate life skill opportunities while practicing a non-judgmental and compassionate lens.

Definitely a difficult situation for any frontline to experience; however, whatever pathway you decide to take (Charge or not charge) the young person, remember the bigger picture. We are here to ensure we work under the premise that we are providing the most quality care for the children, youth, and families we serve.

Thank you for reading 🙂

Marleigh

 

The Child’s mind: Attachment and Anxiety

Hello Frontliners,

Happy 2018! I hope everyone had the opportunity to enjoy some time with friends and family during the holiday season.

Back to the north for me as of last Sunday, and after a full week back to work, it was so good to catch up with all the students and my co-workers.

General questions to consider: Do you miss anyone or anything right now? When was the last time you saw that someone or something? How do you cope with the distance?

Okay so….

What if, you did not know when you would ever see that person or thing again? You did not know where they/ it went? One day you saw them/it but the next day they/ it were gone without any sign or verbal warning….. Super frustrating eh? and if you are reading this you are probably an individual over the age of 10 years old.

Nonetheless, you might say to me- well we have tools and strategies to figure out where that person or thing went! True, but do children have these advanced problem-solving/ investigative skills?

Not yet. So, why do we expect children to know that when something or someone is gone that they can cope like an adult? They can’t.

This week, I had a great conversation with a family about attachment. When a child does not get a heads up to a person’s departure, we create the anxiety. Mother, Father, other family members, or friends/ teachers, a child needs to be taught and prepared to detach from another human being or thing. If it is only short-term or long term, children think in very concrete ways. For the most part they have not had the type of thinking that will allow them to think abstractly.

Example:

*Mom and dad leaves for the day*

Child  comes back from school and sees no parents

Conclusion: they left me and I do not know where they went! Are they dead? Are they hurt?

For many frontliners, we do a lot of work in many diverse settings. Yes, we live in a fast-pace society, but if you know that you have a strong therapeutic relationship with a young person and one day you decide to quit your job to go somewhere else without having that meaningful conversation; you have taught that child indirectly that our relationship was not meaningful from the beginning.

To decrease their own anxiety, children deserve to know about an adult’s or other child’s ‘leaving’ You do not have to go into great detail about why you might be leaving but having a conversation about ‘moving on,’ or setting up a plan when you do not see mommy or daddy after a whole day, or even a plan to talk to the young person about missing people and how we can show them that we are still thinking about them.

Not taking those moments with a child causes unnecessary anxiety, breaking future relationships that involve trust, and observing an increase of angry outbursts inside and outside the classroom setting.

Children want closure- we adults need the same thing. So, take those extra moments to talk and/or develop a plan.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Marleigh