The Way I See It: Building your village

I recently participated in a discussion around the importance of knowing who is involved in supporting the children, youth and families we work with.  Sometimes services don’t know; questions aren’t asked at intake or during assessment or in sessions of who the other supports are. This is changing, though, as the recognition of the wraparound support and team approach to care is embedded in service. There is real value in knowing who the other supports are for best care.

So I was thinking about this for all of us. Who is your support system? Your pack? Your village?

There is an assessment tool used by an agency in Bruce County that asks the client for the names of people they work with or are connected to or are their support system and put the names in small circles or clouds. It is a great visual for the individual and agency to easily identify the other services or supports and where gaps may be. I have heard of a high school counselor using this tool with his students and he has found it very effective for helping the youth to see they do have support.

In those circles could be your counsellor, doctor, bff, close friends, family, employer, naturopath, church, community centre, hair dresser, book club, neighbours, teachers, coaches, massage therapists, dentist, physiotherapists, trainer, yoga instructor, vet, teams; you get the picture.

Within our families there are some easy ways for us to have our children and youth recognize this support for them. When the lads were young I would draw on a paper our house in the middle and all the houses around us with the names and phone numbers of our neighbours. I also did this for our friends. They knew their full names and if they needed help who to call. I also have drawn up a list of the plumber, electrician, vet, handyman, etc. so if we are gone from the house and something happens, whoever is staying there knows who to call. All of these people are part of our village and I still make these pictures, for me.

With our kids it can be an insightful discussion to know who their important people are. Sometimes we assume it will be a particular person, like a teacher, and often it is, but sometimes not. A coach may be really important but maybe not the one you think; maybe it is actually the assistant coach. Or maybe it is a friend’s parents, bus drivers, day care workers, school secretaries, counselors, education assistants, neighbours, playground supervisors, relatives, art instructors, music teachers, employer.

When I was a kid, Mr. Jantzen the school janitor was really important to me. He was one of the kindest most caring people I knew and watched out for us kids. He knew all our names and just seemed to know when you were having a bad day. There are many ways for adults to be a caring person in a youth or child’s life and it starts with positive attention. I care about you, you are important to me.

People will come into our children’s life and have great impact, mostly positively and sometimes negatively. When the negative happens as parents we need to really pay attention to that damage and work to counter-balance it with our children’s strengths and get them connected to us and others who will help them grow as individuals, not damage their sense of self.

Our sense of self is incredibly important through all stages of our lives. This can be a life journey for some on building a strong sense of self because this is what carries us through the challenges of daily living and the tragedies and struggles that will happen. Pretending it won’t happen or trying to buffer ourselves won’t stop anything; building skills helps us be ready. It’s developing our emotional intelligence.

Developing your village and being part of someone else’s is part of that. At all stages of our lives we will need to receive and give support. Your village doesn’t have to be all of Vernon and it is the people you are connected with. Who else is out there that you want to connect with?

I think it is why people move to condos or gated communities looking for a collective support. We live in a fantastic neighbourhood and I feel very privileged to call this corner home. I also have an amazing network of support with my work, and wonderful friends and the people who take care of us. This all gets developed over time and people come and go. Sometimes people are with us for long periods and sometimes not, it is the quality of the connection that matters. You build this one person at a time.

To the village, people!

Michele Blais is a longtime columnist for The Morning Star who writes on a variety of topics, appearing every other Sunday. She has worked with families and children in the  North Okanagan for the past 27 years.

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