Walking the Path Together


Categories associated with best practice:

  • Health Equity
  • wtt_ico
  • Infancy (ages 0-2) icon
  • Early Childhood (ages 3-5) icon
  • Children (ages 6-12) icon
  • Teens (ages 13-18) icon
  • Young Adult (ages 19-24) icon
  • Adult (ages 25-64) icon
  • Seniors (ages 65+) icon
  • Alcohol Abuse Icon 1
  • Canada
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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:

  1. Exposure to family violence and child abuse;
  2. Attitudes accepting violence as normal, unavoidable or desirable;
  3. Low attachment to school / poor family-school link / reduced probability of school completion;
  4. Factors compromising parenting (e.g., alcohol abuse, ineffective parenting skills);
  5. The pull of unhealthy coping strategies (e.g., drug use, gang involvement, self-harm);
  6. Need for role models for healthy relationships, self-respect and traditional values;
  7. Children feeling pride and commitment to their First Nations heritage.


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:

  1. Case management;
  2. Individual counseling sessions;
  3. Talking circles;
  4. Family counseling sessions;
  5. Arranging talks with Elders;
  6. 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.

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