It tells the story of their journeys and documents how they feel about their families in order to support others facing similar challenges.

Last fall, a group of clients from Primary Health and the KidsFirst program in Saskatoon documented their stories of change and empowerment in a narrative research project entitled “The Knowledge and Skills of Families.”

RR-2015-01-28-Kids-first-oneIn the autumn of 2014, Terri Peterson, a social worker with Saskatoon Health Region, partnered with a community of KidsFirst Saskatoon participants – both current and past – in this writing project meant to honour the resiliency, hopes, knowledge and skills of families involved in the program.

“Families, as the heart of any community, play an integral role in encouraging and practicing healthy Lifestyles,” Peterson noted. “Investing in the early years provides one of the greatest potentials to reduce health inequities within one generation. KidsFirst Saskatoon is an early childhood intervention program which hopes to do just that in providing both support and services to vulnerable families with young children in Saskatchewan.”

Over the course of three months, the participants explored and documented their stories of struggle and determination with the goal of inspiring and empowering other families, supporting the sense of community for families, impacting service delivery and addressing social inequalities in the larger community.

The culture, stories, skills and knowledge of many communities have been dishonoured and marginalized for historical, cultural, and social reasons, Peterson explains in the document.

“The collective narrative approach introduces a process to collectively identify, acknowledge, honour, and richly describe the knowledge and skills of marginalized communities,” she notes. “The collective narrative approach is an anti-oppressive and empowerment-based community research method. (It) emphasizes values and honours the importance of story and the traditions of storytelling in Indigenous cultures.”

The document created through this narrative includes stories, art and photography by a wealth of contributors, including Allison Morphy, Mandi Scherr, Lauren Reid, Phyllis Boese, Amber Wollf, Angelina McLean, Natasha Tinker, Karen Deobald, Darcy Prosper, Stephanie White, Jamie Daylight, Trisha Knorr, Laverne Charles, Ya Li Lin, and Terra Bird.

The stories tell the tales of these contributors and their families; the challenges they have faced, and how community services like KidsFirst have helped them in their journeys.

“We are hoping to use the book to both inspire and support the changes people want to make in their lives with other participants accessing our program and the KidsFirst program provincially,” noted Peterson.

Many of the families connected to KidsFirst experience barriers connected to mental health services in general; with the book, those involved in the project hope to illustrate both the creative and relational focus of the counselling services to encourage other families to reach out.

“Being part of this project and witnessing the author’s share their story of resiliency in the event has truly reminded me of how change really happens for people and why I do the work I do,” Peterson said. “In both the telling and the listening to the stories, people remember their strength and who they want to be.”

An official launch of “The Knowledge and Skills of Families” was held in December.

A local Elder, Linda Young, was present to open and close the presentation, which saw 13 of the 16 contributors participate in a narrative ceremony.  All thirteen stood up and shared their stories with the audience.  Photographs and art work were projected on a large screen to illustrate the stories as each author stood and shared pieces of the story.

“The art, photos, stories, and songs involved in the book and in the spoken word presentation documents both the challenges and the resiliency of the authors,” Peterson said.

One of the authors,Lauren Spink, shared several original songs and played live music for the event, inspiring everyone present.  The audience of community members and workers was asked to respond to the stories in a formal way using a narrative framework called “Outsider Witnessing” at four different intervals.

“The audience was moved by the authors’ presentations, and were in awe of the courage they displayed, not only in the telling of their stories, but in their incredible capacity to move forward and become the family they have always wanted,” Peterson said.

“It is a great privilege to be connected to the families I am connected to within the KidsFirst program and to witness their strength, hope, and love for their children,” Peterson said.

All of the participants received a copy of the book and a copy will be submitted to the Dulwich Centre (The Narrative Approach) to publish in their electronic journal so the stories will continue to be shared with others.

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Book launch

Families involved in a special project speak about their experiences as part of a special book project.