VACFSS and Atira deliver a therapeutic access program

Press Release

August 3, 2022

[Vancouver, British Columbia]: In February 2021, the Vancouver Aboriginal Child and Family Services Society (VACFSS) and Atira Women’s Society partnered to launch a therapeutic access program for mothers with children 0-4 years of age who are in the care of VACFSS. The program’s name is Ese’mkwu [e se’m koo], which means “wrapped in a blanket.” When people are wrapped in a blanket, it symbolizes being wrapped in a blanket of protection and love.

Atira has made significant contributions to housing, programming, and advocacy in the lives of women by providing progressive and supportive services. VACFSS provides restorative child safety intervention to vulnerable Indigenous families in Vancouver and relies on agencies like Atira in their service to women.

“Therapeutic supervision supports parents to engage with their children mindfully and intentionally without outside distractions. It focuses on ensuring that the needs of the family are central in the planning of each visit,” says Doris Peters, Family Preservation and Reunification Manager. Parents have reported feeling supported and unconditionally accepted in their parenting role.

This space is a centrally located home environment in a two-level house that allows ongoing and flexible visitation with support and coaching available to ensure that the parent/child relationship is strengthened. Atira secured the space through the City of Vancouver and prepared it to make it comfortable and welcoming for mothers with young children.

The program provides mindful and purposeful visitation to optimize the window of opportunity for a parent whose circumstances present challenges in providing consistent care for their child. Therapeutic visitation is more than someone observing a visit; it includes multiple sources of support to the mother as they maintain contact with their child. All involved will contribute to the therapeutic visitation plan.

During visits, therapeutic access workers guide parents in meeting their child’s needs to achieve reunification and permanency with the parent.

There are several reasons that a parent and a child might need therapeutic visitation, including:

  • Need to enhance the parent/child relationship due to separation and interruption of the parent/child relationship.
  • Intensive support is needed due to past trauma affecting parenting knowledge and experience.
  • To assist the parent in consistently meeting the child’s developmental needs and providing a predictable and stable approach to the parenting relationship.

Since its implementation, the Ese’mkwu program has worked with ten families, with two resulting in reunification.

VACFSS has released a comprehensive report on compliance with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) Calls to Action for Child Welfare; the therapeutic visitation program addresses Call to Action 1(iv), Ensuring that social workers and others who conduct child-welfare investigations are properly educated and trained about the potential for Aboriginal communities and families to provide more appropriate solutions to family healing, and Call to Action 5, to develop culturally appropriate parenting programs for Aboriginal families.

VACFSS has implemented policies and service options for Indigenous children and families by prioritizing the least intrusive measures and alternatives to keep children safe and connected with family and community. The positive outcomes are clear, as demonstrated in the 2021-22 annual report, showing a steady decline in children in care and removals. In 2013, there were 141 children in care and 98 removals, and in 2021, 93 and 54, respectively.

About VACFSS: Established in 1992, VACFSS is a leader in delivering culturally grounded, restorative family services to urban Indigenous families of Greater Vancouver. We strive to culturally and spiritually strengthen the families we serve, and our practice is guided by policy and research done in partnership with the communities we work alongside.

Media contact: Roberta Pratticò, Public Relations & Communications Associate


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