Mari facilitates the Client Concerns Resolution Process (CCRP) at VACFSS, a unique role for a Delegated Aboriginal Agency, that creates space to rebuild relationships with families served by the agency.
Tell us about your background
My name is Mari Otomo and my background is Japanese, Korean and Chinese. I was born in Japan and grew up there until my family moved to Vancouver when I was 6 years old. I have been living on Coast Salish territory most of my life since moving to Canada. My educational background is in political science, with a focus on international development. I also completed my Bachelor of Social Work and Master of Social Work (MSW) specializing in international and community development. Much of my pre-social work experience has been in international and community development. During my undergraduate years, I had the opportunity to work in Ghana on a local development project funded by the United Nations Development Program. During my MSW, I did my practicum at an UN agency in Japan, helping to establish a new program in Iraq assisting youth to develop entrepreneurial skills and experience.
How many years have you been with VACFSS and what position did you start with?
I have been working at VACFSS for about 4.5 years. I started on the Intake Team in the Child Protection Program. I was there for about 2 years and then I moved into my current position.
Not many DAA’s have this role within their agency, and I think it is important that this role exists for the rebuilding of relationships and to connect the concerns families have with our internal policies and practice.
What brought you to VACFSS?
I think that my international work eventually led me to reflect on the role of Western workers in international development. In the context of Africa, and its colonial history, I felt that there were instances where Western workers would, perhaps unintentionally, perpetuate colonial practices and uphold colonial systems. During my experiences overseas, I witnessed situations where foreign development workers did not understand or consider how culture plays a significant role in international development. It made me reflect on how I wanted to practice. This process brought me to VACFSS because the agency values align with my personal values and how I want to practice as a social worker.
What is your role at VACFSS?
I am currently in the role of Quality Assurance Advisor. I think my role is unique within a Delegated Aboriginal Agency (DAA) setting. One of my roles is to facilitate the Client Concerns Resolution Process (CCRP). Not many DAAs have this role within their agency, and I think it is important that this role exists within the agency for the rebuilding of relationships and to connect the concerns families have with our internal policies and practice. Also, while there are policies and standards that I must follow set out by the Ministry of Children and Family Development, VACFSS has its own internal CCRP policy that is grounded in Indigenous values. This allows us to approach the process from a place of maintaining and rebuilding relationships.
What is your “specialty” in your role?
Not sure if I have a “specialty”, however, one of the most impactful feedback I received when I was on the Intake Team was from a social worker at Fir Square. After a meeting she said she appreciated that I was able to transparently have difficult conversations, while holding space for the client’s views. I hope that is how I am also perceived in my current role, especially facilitating the CCRP.
I think it’s important for families to know that by engaging in this process, they are contributing to the continual reflection and growth of our agency.
What is challenging about your role?
I think that one of the challenges when it comes to my work and the CCRP process is that not all complaints can be resolved in the way that resolution is envisioned by the family. This is for many reasons, such as due to child protection concerns or the nature of the concerns might be systemic or structural, beyond the control of VACFSS. Sometimes it’s challenging for me to sit with the fact that there are some families who are not happy with the resolution. However, every single family’s concerns that comes through the CCRP tells a story of how we, as an agency, can do better. I think it’s important for families to know that by engaging in this process, they are contributing to the continual reflection and growth of our agency.
What have you seen change over your time here?
I am pleased to see legislative changes at the Federal level with the Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families having come into effect last year. While we have the important work of continuing to implement these changes as an agency, I am happy to see that systems level changes are starting to catch up and it will help to further the good work that we do at VACFSS.
What do you most like about your role?
One of my favourite parts of my role is working with practicum students. I facilitate the social work practicum program and it brings me lots of joy working with students. I love seeing them learn and grow during their placement and come back as staff because of the positive experience they had during their placement.
What is a highlight/favourite memory of working here?
Some of my favourite highlights are when I can spend time getting to know my colleagues. I have fond memories of spending time with my team on ‘Team Day’ or connecting and learning with colleagues at the Staff Culture Camp. I look forward to the day when we can all connect and share food in person again.
What do you do outside of work?
I love spending time by the ocean. I recently joined a choir (a virtual choir for now), so I am enjoying connecting with a new community and collectively sharing an experience through music. I love exploring the world through food and travel, which I miss very much right now. I also enjoy cooking and baking at home.