Jessica helps coordinate VACFSS’ cultural and youth programming. It is a unique position as it is the only one of its kind within the organization and rare within child welfare agencies.
Tell us about your background.
I grew up in a small community in the Okanagan on the ancestral, traditional and unceded territory of the Syilx/Okanagan People. My paternal grandparents are from southern Saskatchewan, near Regina, and were raised on Treaty 4 lands. I have Cree and Norwegian ancestry; much of my history and ancestry is unknown due to adoption, familial loss and separation, so I am still learning about my heritage.
I have an educational background in psychology and social work. I was drawn to the social work profession because of its diversity and range in career paths, and I am particularly interested in Indigenous pedagogies, youth engagement, mental health and substance use, public and social policy, harm reduction, and research, among others. I have always been interested in working with youth, specifically Indigenous youth, families, and communities.
I wanted a practicum placement with an organization that worked with Indigenous children, youth, families, communities, and importantly, included Indigenous ways of knowing and perspectives at the center of practice.
What brought you to VACFSS.
I wanted a practicum placement with an organization that worked with Indigenous children, youth, families, communities, and importantly, included Indigenous ways of knowing and perspectives at the center of practice. The VACFSS’ values of respect, integrity, belonging, humility, and strengths-based practice, as well as the cultural programming and engagement opportunities for youth, such as the Culturally Relevant Urban Wellness program, drew me to do my practicum placement here.
Once I graduated from my degree, I wanted to return to VACFSS because I had such a positive experience during my practicum placement. The Child & Youth Engagement Worker position became available and it couldn’t have been better timing! This position spoke to me as it is multifaceted and includes working one-on-one and in group settings with children and youth, participating in and running cultural programming, coordinating cultural programming, preparing grant proposals, and networking in the community. Having a role that is well-rounded, challenging and flexible has always been something important to me.
What it is like to do a practicum with VACFSS, or to transition from a practicum to full time work here?
There were multiple highlights of my practicum experience with VACFSS. I loved learning about the cultural programming offered through the agency, and to work with new youth mentors and long-time advocates. The highlight was my supervisor; we shared similar values and passions, and she is also someone who has a lot of wisdom and knowledge to share. It also helped that we got along great, and still do! I think transitioning from a practicum placement to full-time work is beneficial, as you already have an idea of what and how the work is done here. In addition, you already have established connections with colleagues, and with youth and families within the VACFSS community.
What should future practicum students know.
Take advantage of whatever opportunities are available to you during your practicum placement! Practicum placements are such a unique period because once you work full-time, you don’t always have the same opportunities to be so open and flexible in new experiences. This is also a time to determine whether a career in child welfare is right for you. There is an array of opportunities within VACFSS, including participating in the Strengthening Families/Strengthening Fathers programs, the Youth Advisory Committee, child and youth cultural programming, cultural events such as Honouring the Journey of Our Youth or Honouring Our Sacred Bundles, learning from Elders and Knowledge Keepers, and shadowing workers in other departments, among others!
What is your role at VACFSS.
My role is in Guardianship as the Child & Youth Engagement Worker; this position is unique, as it is the only one of its kind within the organization and rare within child welfare agencies. I help coordinate VACFSS’ cultural and youth programming, including the Culturally Relevant Urban Wellness (CRUW) program, the Gathering the CIRCLE (Children’s Indigenous Rights, Culture, Language, and Education) program, and the Youth Advisory Committee (YAC), as well as behind the scenes work of budgeting and finance, grant and report writing, and other community engagement and networking.
There is an array of opportunities within VACFSS, including participating in the Strengthening Families/Strengthening Fathers programs, the Youth Advisory Committee, child and youth cultural programming, cultural events such as Honouring the Journey of Our Youth or Honouring Our Sacred Bundles, learning from Elders and Knowledge Keepers, and shadowing workers in other departments, among others!
What do you most like about your role.
I enjoy spending time with the children and youth that we serve, and engaging in cultural and other activities. Social workers always have a lot of paperwork and behind-the-scenes work to do, and sometimes don’t get to spend as much facetime with children, youth and families as they would like, but I get to do it all. It is hard to describe the close and caring communities that are formed between the children within the different programming, and the joy you feel seeing the children and youth building relationships, learning about their culture, developing pride in their identities, and thriving in their lives.
What is a highlight/favourite memory of working here.
I’ve been able to spend time with the Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) who have recently developed a strategic plan during a weekend retreat. This retreat created space where I could get to know the committee members in a fun environment. I also really appreciate and enjoy the time I get to spend working with our Cultural Coordinator, April Bennett, as much of our work intersects and supports one another.
What do you do outside of work.
I’m really not that exciting outside of work [ha-ha]! I like to spend time with my friends and family, and reading novels. I have recently gotten into beading and sewing. I spend quite a bit of time beading earrings and other items while watching Netflix, and I have recently started a small beading group with a group of friends I met during my Bachelor of Social Work!