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A new Concordia certificate program offers accreditation for Indigenous youth workers

The university partners with Boscoville and the Cree Health Board to provide culturally relevant training
November 7, 2018

Childcare educators in the James Bay Cree territory of northern Quebec are learning new ways to work with young people in youth protection thanks to a certificate program in Indigenous youth care.

Offered through Concordia Continuing Education (CCE), the program was first developed in 2016 out of a partnership between the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay and Boscoville, a non-profit organization that implements prevention and intervention strategies for Quebec youth. The aim is to create culturally relevant training and support for care workers at Youth Healing Services.

“Boscoville undertook a thorough needs assessment at the beginning of the project in order to understand — as much as possible — the context of the workers at Youth Healing Services,” says Isabel Dunnigan, associate-vice president and executive director of CCE.

The results showed that educators wanted legitimate certification for their work in the program. This led Boscoville and the Cree Health Board to enter talks with Concordia to formalize the initiative.

Boscoville drew up a syllabus, Concordia agreed to certify the program and the first cohort will graduate in spring 2020.

“CCE is providing instructional design support to Boscoville to ensure alignment of program objectives, outcomes and assessment,” Dunnigan explains.

“They have agreed to enrol the care workers who undertake the training as students of CCE and provide an attestation following the completion of each of the four modules and a certificate upon completion of the program.”


Collaborative and culturally congruent

Established in the 1950s, Boscoville seeks out and implements best practices that promote the development of young people from birth to 30 years old. The organization is well-known in the Quebec education system but this project represents a first for its team.

“We asked ourselves why our program for the Cree community wasn’t recognized by a university,” explains Mohsen Romdhani, executive director of Boscoville. “That’s where it started and I hope other communities will want to participate moving forward, as well as other universities.”

Named “Mamouwechitutaau” — let’s all help each other, let’s work together — the program provides experiential, interactive training to educators to enhance their practices working with youth. The workshops include a lot of role-playing, along with a large focus on games, reflection circles and conversation.

“The aim is to make it as culturally congruent as possible,” says Tim Harbinson, a project manager and trainer at Boscoville. “It’s a very learning-by-doing environment. We’re trying to make it experiential to respond to that need.”

Emma Kroeker, a project manager at Boscoville, remarks that although the program’s specificity is one of its greatest challenges, it is also what makes the project fun, creative and emergent. She and Harbinson travel to the community once a month to provide different forms of training, coaching or support.

More than anything, she says the program is unique in that it is always evolving based on the feedback they receive from the management team and support staff at Youth Healing Services.

“We’re always asking for their input to make it adapted to the needs of the people we’re trying to support,” Kroeker says. “There’s a lot of participatory design processes as well.”

‘The enthusiasm is there’

When Maria MacLeod became director of Youth Healing Services in 2016, she thought the training program could benefit all her employees, not just front-line workers. When senior staff members agreed to follow the training, they soon realized it was useful for them as well.

“They’re really motivated about the program and the enthusiasm is there,” MacLeod says. “They’re excited to come to work because they know they have all these skills they gained from the trainings.”

Like MacLeod, the majority of the staff at Youth Healing Services are Cree. She notes that her educators often deal with very challenging circumstances in their work, including when youth go into crisis.

“They really know how to handle whatever situation. That’s what really makes me proud — they’re following this program and they’re happy about it.”

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