Faculty of Applied Health & Community Studies
Degree: Child and Youth Worker
Year of graduation: 2014
In the small town of High Prairie, Alta., Kevin Francis is making a difference
Kevin Francis always hoped to work with children.
With experience as a youth worker, and a penchant for athletics and programming, Francis thought he’d end up working full time at a rec centre after graduating from Sheridan.
However, with an open mind and a desire to expand his experience, four years ago Francis jumped at an opportunity to work with the Government of Alberta. He moved from bustling Brampton, Ont. to High Prairie, Alta. — a city with a population of 2,600.
Francis is a caseworker with Métis Settlement Child and Family Services, working with four of Alberta’s eight Métis settlements. When a question of child protection arises in one of those communities, which are made up of Canadians who are descendants of mixed Indigenous and European families, it’s Francis’ role to intervene.
It’s a demanding job. The furthest settlement is a four-hour drive, and Francis can be called at any time to travel to the home of a child who may have been exposed to drug and alcohol abuse, neglect, domestic violence, and a host of other issues.
But for Francis, approaching his job with a perspective of understanding, rather than judgement, is key. “We try to support them and help everyone understand the situation,” he says.
Below, Francis shares more insight into his work:
What was the progression to your current position?
After I graduated from Sheridan I took on a casual position at the Brampton Civic Hospital in the mental health unit where I worked in the day treatment program and the child and adolescent mental health and emergency units.
I saw a position as a Child and Youth Care Counsellor with the Government of Alberta in the small town of High Prairie out of the Youth Assessment Centre, dealing with high-risk youth, and applied.
The office is in a residential setting, so the kids stay at a treatment centre and have schooling, but a lot of them have high-risk behaviours, mental health issues, addictions, gang affiliations and whatnot. We worked with the youth and their families.
We also do a lot of follow up, asking ourselves what happened and what we can do better next time. There’s a lot of therapeutic work and an on-site psychologist. Our primary concern is to make sure the children are safe and to keep them stable in a routine and make sure their medicals are up to date and stuff like that. After almost two years as a child and youth care counsellor, I was promoted to caseworker.
What was the draw to this line of work?
It was about expanding my horizons. In my three years of college we had maybe one day of talking about the Indigenous population. It was about being able to use my skills and expand my knowledge of the Indigenous communities — learning the ins and outs, the culture, the history. History is still affecting the families, and I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to learn and help in some way.
How do you manage some of the hard times that come with the job?
We can get calls late at night — this past Friday I was out until 2 a.m. to investigate a child protection concern. It can definitely be emotionally and physically draining, but you have to find ways to keep yourself motivated. I think the first step is to keep communication lines open with your manager — let them know when you’re exhausted or not handling things well. Everyone in the office understands that you have bad days or bad weeks, and if there’s a way for us to support each other, then we’ll do it.
What makes it worth it?
It’s great when we can really go above and beyond. Sometimes we intervene, and find out that a family is struggling financially, and then we can give them a voucher for grocery or gas, and that can be a huge help for them. It means we’re able to start working with these families and look out for other concerns…something as simple as groceries can make all the difference.
It’s also all about (keeping the kids) with their moms and dads, and feeling like we’ve done a good job. That’s what makes it all worth it at the end of the day – having parents out there who are motivated to do whatever they need to do to keep their kids safe.
What should someone looking to become a caseworker know that you had to learn on the job?
You have to know the community in my line of work – you don’t want to say the wrong thing. And you have to be prepared to take on and listen to some of the scariest things you’ll ever hear of happening to children and families. If you can’t handle that, make sure you have good family support and a good working relationship with your coworkers and supervisors.
When it comes to my job, this position requires building relationships with your families and professionals within the community. That’s where you’re going to help — connecting with them with the right resources.
Any advice for students in the Child and Youth Worker program?
It doesn’t hurt to try out different areas. If you have somewhat of an interest in group homes, try that out, especially if you have the opportunity to try a practicum. Then, in your last year, try something completely different that you would never have done before — maybe a hospital or a school. And talk to your professors, because at the end of the day, they know your strengths, style and skill set.