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Mental Health

Spokes, Needles and Anti-Therapy

Child and Youth Resiliency Team

Dave Ehle, Karen Larsen, Glenn Neilson, Karin Stotze

Reprinted from "First Responders for Young People" issue of Visions Journal, 2006, 3, (2), p. 22

The Child and Youth Resiliency Team (CYRT) at the Cowichan Valley branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association is a small group of child and youth care workers working ‘outside the box.’

Tasked with the mission of providing outreach to youth in the community, they have developed several youth programs. The programs work hand-in-hand with each other, and aim at all—rather than just “at-risk”—young people. These features enable the CYRT to connect with youth who would not otherwise access mental health or other social services.

Two main outreach programs have been developed: the school enhancement program, and the U-Fix-It BikeWorks/Youth Craft Shop. Both programs hope to foster youth’s positive assets,1 including relationships with adults, good friends and contribution to the community.

The school enhancement program

The school enhancement program places CYRT members in two local middle schools and one elementary school. Rather than arrive at these schools with a set agenda, each school’s unique needs and character determine the form and content of programming or connection.

The main goal of the school enhancement program is developing positive relationships with youth in the community, thereby helping to enrich the school environment. At the same time, the program provides school staff with a skilled mental health worker for consultation and referral purposes. At the elementary school, this has resulted in a lunchtime games and crafts program. At the middle school level, involvement leans toward youth experiencing behaviour problems at school. Team members encourage youth to pursue positive creative activities. They guide conversations on issues such as sexual health and drug use. They also strive to increase students’ self-esteem, attendance and achievement—all while working to build a positive school environment.

The U-Fix-It BikeWorks / Youth Craft Shop

The U-Fix-It BikeWorks program came into being in July 2005. In November 2005 the Youth Craft Shop was added. Both shops are based on the simple idea that creative and productive activities are vital to the health and well-being of youth.

The program provides space and materials—and builds connections with the young people involved. Managing issues of power and trust are crucial in developing relationships that are enriching—and not restrictive—to young people. In many cases, the relationships that emerge are among the youth’s first supportive connections with an adult. By providing the chance for adult helpers to participate in teaching bike and crafting skills, both shops support the development of positive connections with adults outside of the family.

Neither BikeWorks nor the Craft Shop are presented as mental health or other social service programs—rather, both appear as local businesses appealing to youth. The shops serve the community by recycling used bikes and craft materials. And participants learn a variety of new skills. Specific tasks are chosen for a given youth based on age, interest and skill level.

The ultimate goal of this program is to engage these young people in teaching skills to their peers. This process supports the growth and display of competency and mutual support, which results in an increased sense of self-esteem and belonging.

Throughout the program, an additional focus is placed upon giving to the community. For example, prior to creating a quilt of their own, participants at the Craft Shop create receiving blankets for the hospital maternity ward and cat blankets for use at the SPCA while learning basic quilting skills. At BikeWorks, participants help seniors and the homeless maintain their bikes.

Helping youth gain access to mental health services

Within the context of the wider child and youth mental health system, the CYRT programs can be seen as both outreach and prevention. At both the shops and school, team members have contact with a number of youth, some of whom have some form of mental health concern.

Team members have the opportunity to develop relationships with these young people and their families. This relationship can be a means of gaining access to the official intake process for mental health services, and as a support for the youth during intake and while on the wait-list. Alternately, youth who are receiving mental health support are steered back into the BikeWorks and Youth Craft Shop as a means of additional support. Similarly, the school system and other community agencies use the shops to the advantage of their clients.

Overall, the programs run by the CYRT staff make a valuable contribution to the community in the Cowichan Valley by building on youth’s strengths, providing access to healthy and creative activities, and helping youth gain access to traditional mental health and other community services.

 
About the authors
Dave, Karen, Glenn and Karin are members of the Child and Youth Resiliency Team at the Canadian Mental Health Association in the Cowichan Valley. Dave is a family therapist and coordinator of the CYRT. Karen, Glenn and Karin are child and youth counsellors.
Footnote:
  1. For more information on the Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets visit www.search-institute.org.

 

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