Women’s shelter works to help clients identify past trauma

Red Deer shelter full in summer

Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter is one of 50 organizations across Canada involved in a three-year project to recognize and assist clients with past traumas impacting their lives.

Executive director Ian Wheeliker said CAWES is 18 months into a trauma-informed practices project led by YWCA Canada and the BC Society of Transition Houses.

“Becoming trauma informed means we view our client’s presenting issues as being the result of trauma, either childhood trauma, domestic violence, or other forms of psycho-social trauma,” Wheeliker said.

Some clients could have issues like addiction or mental health problems. In the past the shelter did not recognize them as related to abuse, but now those issues are explored with their clients either in shelter or in the community with the shelter’s intensive case managers who can get them into local programs, he said.

“Their presenting issues are actually explainable and understandable through a trauma lens. So if we help people to address the underlying trauma, a lot of the symptoms you see in the presenting issues are going to be resolved.”

He said trauma-informed practices have been around for several years and it’s about trying to figure out how to best serve clients instead having clients fit into a program.

“We’re not the pioneers in this by any stretch of the imagination, but we recognize that it is best practice in social services and it’s high time we made the move to become as trauma informed as we possibly can.”

CAWES is also involved in a two-year pilot Nurturing Parenting Program to work with parents to address conflict in the home to mitigate the effects on children. The program promotes healthy parenting to reduce the risk of childhood toxic stress that impacts childhood development.

“We’ve served 52 parents and their children to date. We have programs running in Innisfail, Sylvan Lake and Lacombe as well as Red Deer. We’re going to be expanding the programs and length of programs coming up in the fall.”

Wheeliker said clients now stay about 20 days in shelter, twice as long as they did five years ago before staff started working more intensely with them.

In 2016 a total of 240 women and children were admitted into the Red Deer shelter.

He said working with more clients in the community has helped address the need, but the 40-bed shelter is still usually full, particularly in the summer.

“What we tend to see in the shelter movement in Canada over the last two decades is that the busy season is the summer. We’ve come to understand it’s easier for moms with kids to come to shelter in the summer when school is out and there’s less disruption for kids.”

szielinski@reddeeradvocate.com

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