New Vanderhoof mentorship program gives permanency to native foster youth

North central B.C’s native youth and elders can soon bridge generation gaps through a new youth-elder mentorship program.

A group of youth took a Medicine Walk with an Lake Babine Nation knowledge holder during culture camp earlier this year.

North central B.C’s native youth and elders can soon bridge generation gaps through a new youth-elder mentorship program.

To be based in Vanderhoof, the new program by Carrier Sekani Family Services is one of three projects in the province this winter that received support from the Lex Reynolds Adoption and Permanency Trust Fund.

”A lot of youth in care feel like they don’t connect to the culture or people in their community,” said CSFS youth services manager Kayla Brownscombe. “We aim to increase cultural connection in care, and create a sense of cultural permanency.”

Elders and First Nation youth in government care, starting in April, will meet once every two weeks with a facilitator for a bonding activity throughout the year.

“Our hope is that with lots of trust building work, the relationships will continue even if program funding stops after a year, and youth will seek elders for advice and still talk in an informal setting afterwards,” Brownscombe said. “So they will have a support for the long-term.”

Before the program’s start in the spring, the group is now identifying interested participants through community sessions, including an open meeting for all to provide feedback or suggest collaborations on Jan. 24.

Elders, younger knowledge holders, as well as others who have cultural expertise to share are invited to join the program, and participating mentors will be trained in working with youth in care.

The new progam is only part of CSFS’s expansion of its youth services to Vanderhoof, as monthly events that are available also to non-native youth starts this January.

Featuring a full day of activities that include educational workshops and outdoor excursions, the monthly youth events will coincide with schools’ Professional Development Days to encourage youth participation. Next event takes place on Jan. 31.

“We’ve been trying to expand to Vanderhoof current youth services in Burns Lake and Prince George,” Brownsombe said. “Where we have programs like Walk Tall (gender-specific youth programming in recreation , prevention, leadership, and development).”

CSFS in Prince George, as well as Usma Nuu Chah Nulth Family and Child Services in Port Alberni, also received funding from the trust fund. CSFS will host a three-day cultural event for aboriginal foster children and parents, and the Port Alberni group will create a “Hub-Home” and six to 10 satellite homes in the remote community of Ahousaht to provide support to foster and adopted children and families.

“This year we have seen a heighted awareness of the needs of children and youth in care across BC,” noted Geord Holland, chair of the trust fund advisory committee. “We have also seen very encouraging results in the form of action by indigenous organizations and by the minister for Children and Family Development and, most importantly, we have seen the reduction of the number of children and youth in care.

“I particularly wish to thank our Committee member, and retiring Director of Adoption, Anne Clayton for her dedication to the cause of kids in care over the past many years.”