By Stephanie Baskerville on May 03, 2021

Putting Families First through Mental Health and Counselling Support

CW: Suicide, Domestic Violence, Child Abuse

In honour of International Day of Families on May 15th, we asked nonprofit organizations and charities to share their stories related to how they support families in their regions. ProServeIT’s promise was to choose a winner and share their story to our audience via our blog, our social channels, and our monthly newsletters. 

We received 8 inspiring submissions of nonprofits and registered charities that are all making a difference, from companies who provide support for those suffering from the after effects of domestic violence, to companies who are helping students to improve literacy rates through family-based initiatives, and more! Our team at ProServeIT was inspired to read about all the ways that nonprofits and charities are working to support families, and we wanted to take a moment to say that selecting the winner was quite a task! 

The winning story for the Share Your Story challenge this month belongs to Family Counselling and Support Services for Guelph-Wellington, chosen because of the positive impact they're having on their community, providing mental health and counselling support to all who need it. A timely story to share, given that #MentalHealthWeek also kicks off today!

As a mental health advocate, it was my privilege to sit with Joanne Young Evans, Executive Director of Family Counselling and Support Services for Guelph-Wellington and hear more about these initiatives in greater detail. Ready to be inspired? Listen, watch, or read the fascinating interview below!




Family Counselling and Support Services for Guelph-Wellington's Commitment to Helping One Person at a Time. 

Stephanie: So, Joanne, tell me a bit about Family Counselling and Support Services for Guelph-Wellington (shortened to FCSSGW from here on)!

Joanne: FCSSGW began our journey in 1964, and we began it as a prevention-oriented program of the Children's Aid Society. We've undergone rebranding a couple of times as our programs and services have grown over the past years, and that's happening again this year - and it's so exciting (but that's confidential, and it's not happening until June 1st, so...)!

We're one of 51 Family Services Agencies in Ontario. This agency is committed to strengthening individuals, couples, and family life, for those dealing with trauma, grief, stress, anxiety, depression, and any type of abuse. We also support people with developmental challenges and those who care for them. Our agency offers the only same-day mental health clinics for those wishing to call, video conference, or speak in-person with a counsellor in our geographic area.

We're also the only not-for-profit provider of customized Employee Assistance Programs in the area. And, we're also a registered charity, and you'll find us on Canada Helps.

“Our agency offers the only same-day mental health clinics for those wishing to call, video conference, or speak in-person with a counsellor in our geographic area.”

Stephanie: Great! So, the story you wrote about was very powerful, about a mother and two young boys who had undergone a tragic loss, and I wanted to talk a little bit about that story, and how FCSSGW stepped in to help them. Can we go over that?

Joanne: Well, let me give you a bit of a broad stroke first.

Over 35% of the people who walk through our doors have had thoughts about suicide, have attempted suicide, or they're actually conducting self-harm. And we're talking pre-COVID. Almost 20% of the women who walk through our doors vocalizing stress or depression are actually being abused.

So, in this particular situation, we had this young mom and two sons, and they were sitting in the reception room and they were just sitting quietly, and the mom is filling out the paperwork. And they're eventually ushered in to see the therapist. And they just sat there, and the therapist finally said "so, what brought you in today? What can I help you with?". The mom looked at her and said, "I kept my boys home from school today and I didn't call the school."

The therapist said to the mom, "why did you do that? What's wrong?". And then the three of them just burst into tears. And it took them a while to stop. And when they finally calmed down, the mom said, "my eldest came home from school yesterday, and went into the basement to turn on the TV, and found his father hanging from the rafters."

It's a tough story to tell. In this situation, the therapist had to connect not only with them - and we worked for weeks with this family. We have therapists who specialize in dealing with children, we worked with the mom, so they were with us for a very long time. But that very first day ended up causing a cascade of actions.

What ended up happening was, we had to call a biohazard company, because we needed to get someone in there to clean the home. We needed to get a hold of the school and school board. We got a hold of their church. We got a hold of people in the medical community that could help the family. So, there were a lot of things that had to happen around that particular story, in order to help this family.

And, by the time we were finished what we could do within our agency, we ended up handing it off to other agencies in the community that could give them even more support than what we could do currently. And we'll do that - if someone comes through our doors who is not within our scope of practice, we will do warm hand-offs to other agencies within the community. We would never turn them away without making sure that they have support for the particular issue that they're dealing with.


Support Services for the Guelph-Wellington Region

Stephanie: Wow. That's such a powerful story. I want to highlight, in that story, you mentioned a couple ways that FCSSGW did help and did step in and make connections. Can we talk a bit about the various services that you offer families?

Joanne: Sure! We're one of 51 Family Service Agencies in Ontario. We offer myriad services, from trauma, abuse of children, adults who've experienced abuse as children and are now experiencing issues as adults, depression, anxiety, stress. We have violence against women programming, and emotional regulation for men.

We work with couples, families, individuals, no matter what religion, what gender - we are all-inclusive and we'll see anyone who comes through our doors. We work with families where there's developmental challenges, so that the family can have as much assistance as possible, and the individual with the developmental challenge can live as independently as possible.

“We work with couples, families, individuals, no matter what religion, what gender - we are all-inclusive and we'll see anyone who comes through our doors.”

We offer art therapy. We offer various modalities of therapy. Let's take depression for example. There are a dozen different modalities that you could use to treat depression - cognitive behavioural therapy, EMDR, there's a number of them. Our social workers and therapists work in a particular way - they will talk to you, they will get where you're coming from, what you're prepared to do, and they will pick and choose, from one modality, or a number of modalities, in order to get you where you need to be. Some people is one session, some people is ten to twelve sessions. The average is 4 to 6 sessions to help someone get through their particular issue. We're very client centred.

We even offer volunteer phone-in and phone-out services to help people with wellness checks and crisis calls. It operates seven days a week, is totally funded by donations and by the United Way, and this year, we did 15,000 calls. And I'm going to say that part of that was COVID-related. We literally saved lives. People called in prepared to die by suicide, they couldn’t handle it anymore, they were isolated, they were alone, and our trained volunteers are just amazing. We have over 100 volunteers, and they've helped people get through this.

I have one story. We had an elderly person call in and they wanted to sign up for our tele-connect program - that's where we'll call in and check on you two or three times a day. You know, "How you doing today, have you taken your meds?" So, this person had called in and, while they were calling in, the person had a hard time breathing. They couldn't catch their breath. The volunteer knew there was something wrong, so they took their personal cellphone, called 9-1-1, they kept the client on the line, they've got 9-1-1 on the other line. 9-1-1- arrived, paramedics came in and were able to assist the person, and that person is one of our tele-connect clients today!

So, those are the kinds of stories - I know the lives that we're saving, I know the people that we're helping. We offer more services than what we have time to talk about today! But those are just some of the ones that you'll find.

“We even offer volunteer phone-in and phone-out services to help people with wellness checks and crisis calls. It operates seven days a week, is totally funded by donations and by the United Way, and this year, we did 15,000 calls.”


Stephanie: That's amazing to hear about the tele-wellness, and the things you're doing for your community. I wanted to talk about you, and how you got into this, and your particular journey in finding your way to FCSSGW!

Joanne: Well, I've been working for more decades than I care to admit! And most of those decades have been related to healthcare in some form or another - public health, nursing, independent living and more! I volunteered over a 10-year period in Africa, doing work over there both municipally, with women's groups, those kinds of things. I had an absolutely incredible time with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and I was very fortunate to be over there for quite a while.

And I've been an Executive Director for more than two of those decades. FCSSGW attracted me, I think because of the mental health and social services aspects. There are things here that I've never dealt with before. And frankly, my mother attempted suicide several times, and actually, the last time, she almost succeeded. And you didn't talk about it - you didn't talk about going in the hospital, you didn't talk about the restraints, you didn't talk about the drugs, you didn't those kinds of things because that was verboten.

So, I'm now in an area where it's a welcome conversation. We're helping one person at a time. I know that reception sometimes gets frustrated - we have amazing people who work at reception - and they get frustrated when they see so many people, and sometimes, we're so full, we have to ask people to come back. And I have to constantly remind them that every person we help means something, and we will eventually get to that next person.

The other reason I joined FCSSGW is that they were looking to grow, they were looking to change, they were looking to do more things than they were doing, and that's one of my areas of expertise. I get bored if we're just in "maintenance mode". So, we're always after new programming and doing a much better job, and a much bigger and more inclusive job as much as possible that fits within our scope.


Addressing Victims Services through Unique "Breaking Free Program" Geared Towards Youth

Stephanie: So, I understand that FCSSGW has won some awards and honours over the past years! Did you want to share a few of those?

Joanne: Yes! How exciting! In fact, we won the Attorney General's Victim Services Award of Distinction for our victims services work that we do. We developed a program that is unique, not only in Ontario, but unique in Canada. And I've actually spoken about this program at several conferences across this country. 

It's called the Breaking Free Program, and it's a program that is geared towards youth 12-17 that have either been exposed to abuse, or have been abused and thus, they're making really poor life choices. It's not a ministry-funded program, but our school boards love it, because what it's doing is creating really strong peer groups. They've never had strong role models, and the program is second-to-none. It changes the trajectory for most of these youth, and is so unique. We have principals who just espouse the program - they just think it's the best. So, we were really proud to win an award for that.

“Our Breaking Free Program changes the trajectory for most of these youth. We have principals that espouse the program - they just think it's the best.

We've also won several awards for our Intern program. So, Masters of Social Work and other psychotherapy Masters programs require that they do an intern placement. So, we have our interns do a lot of our walk-in work, otherwise we'd never be able to afford to do it. And we're talking about students who are preparing to graduate - so they're the end of their program, they're amazing students, and we've actually fired students - so our standards are very high. We have incredible supervision, they're taught proper documentation; you know, if you're calling because you're hearing about possible child abuse, those calls have to be sent over to F and CS.

So, we've won many awards for our intern supervision - we have dozens and dozens of interns every year -  and for the quality of supervision and quality of training that we do here at FCSSGW.

And, we've also won a number of financial awards. People look to us, and they go, "well, you don't get all the funding you need so you can offer more programming, expand programming, get innovative." We just won a donation from 100 Women Who Care Rural Wellington (100WWCRW) here in the Guelph-Wellington area. And we won $10,000, and that's going to allow us to start a special LGBTQ+ walk-in and hotline! Because the resources for LGBTQ+ in our rural community are next to none - it's very embarrassing - and they need help. We have a higher than provincial average suicide rate and it encompasses a number of types of individuals, but for the LGBTQ+, there's just not that support. So, we're going to be starting a new program, and we're launching it with this $10,000, and we're hoping to get even more donations for that particular program, so that we can just blow it out of the water, and give our youth all the support that they need!

Stephanie: That's wonderful! I love hearing about all the awards you're receiving - I think that, from what I've read about you and what I'm hearing, they are warranted, and well-deserved. I think that we're going to wrap it up for today, and Joanne, I do appreciate your time and sharing these stories, and sharing your comments with me today. 

Joanne: Thanks, everyone, and thanks so much, Stephanie!

If you're interested in learning more about FCSSGW, or if you'd like to assist them in any way or get connected with them, you can definitely do that. Visit their website and connect with them on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Ready to Share Your Nonprofit's Story? 

In our continuous effort to give back and support the nonprofit sector, we have recently launched this #ShareYourStory initiative. Each month has a dedicated topic/cause. We’re asking nonprofits and charities to share their stories related to the topic/cause of the month. We’ll review the submissions and vote internally to choose one story to share with our broader audience on our website and other digital channels. 

Family Counselling and Support Services for Guelph-Wellington's story above is our story of the month for May. June's #ShareYourStory challenge will centre around World Refugee Day on June 20, 2021. Are you focused on ways to improve the lives of refugees?  We want to hear from you! Fill out our form before noon on Monday, May 17, 2021 to be considered. If you want to learn more about this initiative or topics for other months, please reach out to us.

Published by Stephanie Baskerville May 3, 2021