Volunteer program removes barriers to mental health services

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Two years ago, Michelle Deveau-Brock, a Social Worker at the North Bay Regional Health Centre’s Clinic (MHC), began to see a pattern from parents not able to attend their therapy sessions.  “I was receiving calls from mothers and fathers cancelling because they had no child care available to them for their appointments,” explains Deveau-Brock. “I realized the lack of child care served as an obstacle by preventing parents from accessing our services or keeping them from completing their support.”

At first the Clinic tried to accommodate parents by allowing their children to remain in the room during therapy sessions. This arrangement was less than ideal because it made it harder for parents to focus on themselves.

“Some of the discussions we have during therapy can be tough and it is often challenging for parents to talk about issues with their children in the room. We’ve had situations where children have tried to comfort their mom or dad when they’ve become upset,” says Deveau-Brock.

Deveau-Brock decided to connect with the Health Centre’s Volunteer Department to pilot a new child care program. The idea was that under the new program parents can have a volunteer care for their children while they attended their therapy session.

Kathleen Lievers, a retired Pediatric Nurse, is one of these volunteers. Lievers says her background helped naturally draw her to this new role. “Children have been the focus of my life for so many years, and the volunteer child care program is one way that I can participate in their lives and also give support to the parents,” Lievers explains.

Now parents are informed during their intake that childcare is available and arrangements are made for their children to be cared for by a volunteer. Deveau-Brock says with the new program, parents are better able to address and treat the issues affecting their health. “There is so much value for parents just to be able to sit and focus on themselves for 50 minutes,” says Deveau-Brock. “When parents are able to look after themselves, they are more likely to find themselves better prepared to face the varied challenges of raising a child.”

The child care volunteers also play an essential role in creating a safe, healthy and caring environment for the children. For Lievers this is one of the joys of volunteering at the MHC. “I work closely with the Social Workers and the parents to arrange appointments that work best for everyone’s schedule,” explains Lievers. “That way we can provide some consistency with the children by having the same volunteer available while under our care. This gives the children an opportunity to socialize, learn new skills and build trusting relationships.”

The MHC is a community-based program with the Health Centre designed to assist individuals with mental health problems achieve wellness and enhance quality of life. The Clinic uses a patient-centered and interdisciplinary approach to care that promotes the active participation of individuals in their own recovery through a wide variety of programs.

Deveau-Brock works closely with individuals experiencing mental health illnesses such as depression and anxiety.  Through group and one-on-one appointments, individuals work with Deveau-Brock or another Social Worker to learn healthy and effective strategies to manage these symptoms.

The child care role is part of the Clinic’s efforts to create a strength-based, family-centered practice, and to de-stigmatize mental illness and what it means to be a “perfect parent.”

“Some parents may be reluctant to acknowledge their mental health issues or afraid to seek help, because there is a perception that it makes you a bad parent. In reality, parenting is hard work for everyone and it is quite common to face challenges,” says Deveau-Brock. “For parents coping with a mental illness these issues can be amplified. However, with the right support and resources, it is perfectly possible to be a good parent while managing a mental health problem.”

The child care role, now in its second year, has become a permanent component of the ways the MHC works to help those in the community. Both Deveau-Brock and Lievers hope to see the program expand in the years ahead. “Right now the volunteers have been very creative turning an office space into a play room,” says Deveau-Brock. “The next step is getting a dedicated nursery room. It will be just one more way we can create a supportive and welcoming environment for the entire family.”

Until then the volunteers will continue to play an integral part in the child care program. In February 2016, Lievers was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the District of Nipissing Social Services Administration Board (DNSSAB) for devoting more than 40 years to the health and wellbeing of the North Bay area.

“We are so thankful to have Miss Lievers’ as part of our team here at the MHC,” says Deveau-Brock. “For many parents leaving their little one can be difficult even if it is just for a short time. However, once they meet Miss Lievers, their concerns fade. Her kind-heartedness, understanding, and gentleness put parents at ease, and make the time spent with her for the little ones such fun.”