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Yukon First Nations family support workers to learn history, impacts of colonialism in new program

Yukon First Nations family support workers are participating in a new program that includes lessons on cultural competency and history, with the aim of improving their quality of care.

Program's 18 students represent 10 Yukon First Nations

The 18 program participants represent 10 Yukon First Nations. (Steve Silva/CBC)

Yukon First Nations family support workers are going to be trained this year in a new program that includes lessons on cultural competency, history, and other topics, with the aim of improving their quality of care.

"The courses and the program that we developed are to give the family support workers the skills that they need to work with families to keep children out of care," said Shadelle Chambers, executive director of the Council of Yukon First Nations (CYFN).

"I think the long-term vision is that Yukon First Nations have our own capacity to address our social concerns in the community."

The free, 10-month program was developed by the CYFN and Camosun College. The program's 18 students, some of whom are not currently working as family support workers, represent 10 Yukon First Nations.

The participants will learn about Indigenous identity, history, the impacts of colonization, Yukon First Nations children, addictions intervention and prevention of family violence. 

Participants of the Yukon First Nations Family Support Worker Training Program pictured in Whitehorse on Jan. 27, 2020. (Steve Silva/CBC)

"I think the reality right now is the current child welfare system is not able to always respond to the community-based concerns in a culturally appropriate way," Chambers said.

About 58 Yukon First Nations children are in foster care, "and that represents about 80 per cent of the children in care, so there is a large overrepresentation," she said, referencing the latest data available.

The focus should be on prevention, as opposed to apprehension, Chambers said.

The students are currently in Whitehorse for orientation week. They'll attend classes once a week for most months between February and November.

The program, paid for by the CYFN, costs about $500,000 to run and covers students' travel accommodations, and other costs. More than 40 people applied for it.

Shadelle Chambers (right) is the executive director of the Council of Yukon First Nations. (Steve Silva/CBC)

Chambers said some of the students said they're concerned about self-care, vicarious trauma, and feeling isolated in their respective communities.

"You can only imagine having to assist a family who has experienced trauma who, you know, you've grown up in the community with or might even be a family member. Not everybody always wants to be open and transparent about what their situation currently is," she said.

About half of the students are auditing the course, and the rest are taking it for credit, according to Ruth Lyall, Camosun College co-ordinator in the Department of Indigenous Education and Community Connections.

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