Prizes for stars of the healthcare system: Family workers honoured for proactivity
Once again, projects led by APTS members have been rewarded with Stars du Réseau de la Santé (SRS) prizes from the Caisse Desjardins du Réseau de la santé. This year, a psychosocial team from Montérégie-Ouest took home first prize in the “People-focused” category for Projet Vigilance, an initiative based on empathetic care through outreach intervention that makes family services more accessible and helps prevent child neglect.
The Special Commission on the Rights of the Child and Youth Protection (CSDEPJ) recently published their recommendations, devoting an entire chapter to the need for preventive action, first and foremost, to ensure youth protection (“Agir en prevention, d’abord et avant tout”). Meanwhile, social worker Isabelle Fournier and special education technician Karine Leblanc, employees at the CISSS de la Montérégie-Ouest, have been applying this principle for the past two years in the Robert-Cauchon neighbourhood of Salaberry-de-Valleyfield. Here’s what they have to say about their project.
Tell us about the approach at the centre of Projet Vigilance.
The idea is to offer flexible interventions that are adapted to families’ needs and not the other way around. That’s where outreach intervention comes in: first, we forge trusting relationships with families, by joining neighbourhood revitalization activities or reading children a story at school. Then we support them in meeting basic needs, which can involve anything from listening to providing food assistance to helping with employment and housing searches. Finally, if necessary, and only when families are ready to invest in closer, more sustained follow-up, we refer them to family services provided at the CLSC – services related to parenting skills, targeted screening or mental health, for instance. We’re convinced that if we take collective action to address the social determinants of health, families will be in a better position to fulfill their parental roles and answer their children’s needs.
Why pursue this project in the Robert-Cauchon neighbourhood?
It’s a neighbourhood with very high levels of vulnerability factors – 45% of families are single-parent households, compared to just 22% in Montérégie-Ouest overall. And so, unsurprisingly, most child neglect cases in the youth protection system and at the Valleyfield CLSC come from Robert-Cauchon. It was a good place to launch a pilot program for those reasons, but many other neighbourhoods could benefit enormously from their own local version of Projet Vigilance.
Looking beyond the numbers, we realized that families were often very mistrustful when it came to engaging with available services, and that even parents who did want to use those services didn’t know where to start. As a result, problems would accumulate until the situation became unmanageable and got reported. We’ve challenged ourselves to support families during earlier stages in order to break this cycle and make sure the DPJ becomes, as it should be, a last resort.
How did you go about launching the program?
There was a lot of interest in making this a collective project and integrating it with the community from the start. We wanted to form tight-knit connections between different partners and avoid working in isolation, so our first step was to mobilize stakeholders not only in Robert-Cauchon but throughout Salaberry-de-Valleyfield – community organizations, the municipality, the school system, the CISSS, citizens – and invite them to be part of the development committee. Responses came from all sides, and about 60 people from more than 30 different organizations got involved. Today, they’re still here, keeping the project going. Our credo: “Alone we move faster, but together we go farther!”
What factors helped you launch the project efficiently? Conversely, what challenges did you face?
The open-mindedness of our managers, their determination to find the means to do things differently – among other things, by recognizing and relying on community-based expertise – were crucial for the project’s success. As for challenges, resources are obviously an issue, as always. We work under the director of the youth and public health activities program, and we’re lucky to have managers within that structure who believe wholeheartedly in this project; they approved our request to go from part-time to full-time, despite long waiting lists at the CISSS de la Montérégie-Ouest and everywhere else, in order to give Projet Vigilance every possible chance of success. We can also count on financial support from the Fondation de l’Hôpital du Suroît, community organizations, and occasional mini-grants. But if we really believe that prevention is the cornerstone of youth protection, then we need the budget to support it. Let’s hope the Laurent Commission’s recommendations put prevention on the political agenda!
Would you like to implement this project in your own institution?
Photo: Karine Leblanc, special education technician, and Isabelle Fournier, social worker