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Eagle Feather Workers based in five on-reserve women’s shelters in Alberta provide one-on-one support to First Nations children who have lived within family violence.
Walking the Path Together (WTPT) is a collaborative learning project initially comprised of eight organizations. By working with the child’s family, school and community supports, and emphasizing cultural teachings, the Eagle Feather Workers aspire to: 1) make the environment of the child safe; 2) help the family heal; and 3) make room for the possibility of a violence-free future for that child.
The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters (ACWS) is a province-wide, voluntary organization supporting women’s shelters and their partners through education, research and services for the benefit of abused women and their children. Through the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters, Alberta women’s emergency, second-stage, seniors’ and on-reserve shelters work together in a learning collaborative to develop promising-practice knowledge and maintain high quality service in Alberta’s shelters.
Children should be allowed to be children: they need to laugh, love and play. This inspires Walking the Path Together. Phases I and II of this project have demonstrated outcomes and ACWS is searching for sustainable funding. Multiple and varied services are provided for families, to match their needs, interests and requests, including mentoring, life skills training, counseling, emotional and/or spiritual support, substance abuse treatment brokerage, sports, arts and other recreational activities, cultural activities/traditional learning, employment support, housing support, advocacy with the legal systems, and support to access medical and/or mental health support.
Interventions are aimed at addressing:
- Exposure to family violence and child abuse;
- Attitudes accepting violence as normal, unavoidable or desirable;
- Low attachment to school / poor family-school link / reduced probability of school completion;
- Factors compromising parenting (e.g., alcohol abuse, ineffective parenting skills);
- The pull of unhealthy coping strategies (e.g., drug use, gang involvement, self-harm);
- Need for role models for healthy relationships, self-respect and traditional values;
- Children feeling pride and commitment to their First Nations heritage.
ADDITIONAL SUPPORTING INFORMATION
Inspiration and guidance for the development of the project came about in 2005 when ACWS and the on-reserve shelters implemented the Pathways Study. This Study involved an environmental scan which highlighted the need for tools, training and research to address specific needs of First Nations children on-reserve who are exposed to domestic violence. In particular the need for collaborative efforts to build resources of on-reserve shelters and culturally relevant programming for child residents accessing on-reserve shelters were identified as priorities.
In 2009, ACWS shelters formed a Project Guidance Circle, set out their dream for the project, and hired five women whom they called Eagle Feather Workers because the eagle feather symbolizes honesty, truth, strength, courage, and wisdom. Then the ACWS shelters invited families to join them. Dedicated multi-year funding from both Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, (National Crime Prevention Centre) and the Alberta Justice (Safe Communities Innovation Fund) created an opportunity to work in a new way with families, many of whom had been repeat users of shelter services. The WTPT programme FEATHER approach:
- Focuses on a few families (we found that 10 families worked best)
- Maintains longer contact (for two years or more)
- Reaches out to offer support instead of waiting to be contacted
- Works with the entire family (including willing male partners and any other family members)
- Assists with any issue families face in their healing journeys, including basic needs
- Meets families where it is convenient for them, when it is convenient for them
In short, this approach provides proactive, long-term, intensive support in whatever form it takes to help a family begin a journey away from violence and towards a happy and peaceful life. This support might be assistance with housing, food, income support, medical care, safety, advocacy with the legal systems, parenting guidance, or it may take the form of recreational, educational, therapeutic or cultural activities. This is not as easy as it sounds, nor as welcomed by families as you might expect. However, the evaluations of the programme observed slow but strong changes in families. Walking the Path Together believes this approach is responsive and respectful to the context of reserve-based communities but it can be used in any shelter, including mainstream Canadian ones.
At the core of the project’s work with children and families is the practice of intervention staff entitled “Eagle Feather Workers”. These workers, based within the five participating women’s shelters in Alberta, provide one-on-one supports to children who have witnessed violence and their families (siblings and caregivers), through the following key activities:
- Case management;
- Individual counseling sessions;
- Talking circles;
- Family counseling sessions;
- Arranging talks with Elders;
- Family group conferencing sessions.
Another tool they employ is the Danger Assessment (DA) — a tool for predicting a woman’s risk of being killed or almost killed by an intimate partner. The tool was developed by Dr. Jacquelyn Campbell (1986) with consultation and content validity support from abused women, shelter workers, law enforcement officials and other clinical experts on abuse. There are two parts to the tool: a Calendar and a 20-item Questionnaire.
The Calendar helps to assess severity and frequency of abuse during the past year. The woman is asked to mark the approximate days when physically abusive incidents occurred, and to rank the severity of the incident using a 1 to 5 scale (1=slap, pushing, no injuries and/or lasting pain through 5=use of weapon, wounds from weapon). The Calendar acts as a tool to raise the consciousness of women and reduce the denial and minimization of the abuse in their lives (Campbell, 1995; Ferraro et al., 1983). Identifying incidents of abuse with the calendar also aids the safety planning process. Often women are able to identify patterns when the abuse is most likely to occur, and therefore make safety plans specific to their own situations. Results of research conducted by Dr. J. Campbell in the United States indicated that one third of women who participated in the study changed their response to the first question on the 20-item questionnaire— “Did the abuse increase in severity or frequency over the past year?”— to a positive response after completing the calendar portion of the tool. The 20 questions on the DA have yes or no responses to risk factors associated with intimate partner homicide and uses weighted scoring to determine a women’s level of danger. Some of the risk factors include past death threats, partner’s employment status and the partner’s gun ownership.
Primary Source Document
Irene Hoffart, Walking the path together evaluation – Phases I and II The Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters
Contact information of developer(s) and/or implementer(s)
|Intervention Goal / Objective||Level(s) Targeted||Equity Focus|
|Long-Term Goal: to reduce the likelihood that children grow up to use or accept violence in their own intimate relationships||People living in conditions of disadvantage are explicitly stated to be a target population of the intervention.|
|Intermediate Goal: no child is living with violence at home||People living in conditions of disadvantage are explicitly stated to be a target population of the intervention.|
|Intermediate Goal:all children live with at least one nurturing caregiver||People living in conditions of disadvantage are explicitly stated to be a target population of the intervention.|
|Intermediate Goal:no child is engaging in behaviour that would be criminal if they were 12 years of age or older|
|Intermediate Goal:women are more likely to keep themselves and their children safe|
Health Issue(s) that is/are addressed by the Intervention
- Mental Health
- Prevent/reduce alcohol use/abuse
- Prevent violence
Specific Activities of the Intervention
Priority/Target Population for Intervention Delivery
- All ages
|Outcomes and Impact Chart|
|Level of Impact||Description of Outcome||Equity Focus|
|Individual Level||In general, almost all families were assessed as healthier as a result of the project – they were eating better and more nutritional meals, there was a significant improvement in their personal hygiene and cleanliness, and fewer children were malnourished||Outcomes reported for people living in conditions of disadvantage are compared to outcomes for people living in more advantaged conditions.|
|Individual Level||Over the course of the project almost all primary caregivers (between 83 and 90 percent depending on the project phase) were provided with parenting information and support.||Outcomes reported for people living in conditions of disadvantage are compared to outcomes for people living in more advantaged conditions.|
|Individual Level||In Phase I, there were 4 children for whom incidents of school violence were recorded and for all but one child those incidents were recorded in the first 9 months of the project only. Over the course of Phase II, 12 of 21 children showed improvement with respect to school violence at least once.||Outcomes reported for people living in conditions of disadvantage are compared to outcomes for people living in more advantaged conditions.|
|Individual Level||In Phase II, 26 of 37 (70%) children for whom this information was documented were described as having improved their academic achievement at least once during this phase.|
|Interpersonal Level||During Phase I there were no reports to Child Welfare recorded over the course of the projectfor a large majority of the participating children (n=48, 75% of 64).|
|Societal Level||The course of 2 years, the overall social value of investment in WTPT is $5.42 for every dollar invested.|
- Multiple implementations - Different settings/populations/providers - The intervention showed significant adaptability as it has been implemented in different settings or with different populations or by different provider(s). This can include multiple implementations during the same time period. Each implementation of the intervention must have been substantially the same and must have demonstrated positive results for the primary objectives of the intervention.
Expertise Required for Implementation within the Context of the Intervention
- Specialized skills training provided as part of the Intervention - The intervention does not require individuals or groups with highly specialized training, but requires that individuals or groups be trained as part of the implementation of the intervention.
Are there supports available for implementation
Yes. ACWS assists in securing funding
Are there resources and/or products associated with the interventions
Yes. WTPT programme FEATHER approach and Danger Assessment Tool and POP-Tarts tool