Throughout my work within the urban Aboriginal community, specifically at the Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health in Ottawa, a Circle of Care model was developed to support Aboriginal health and the well-being of Aboriginal children. It was a model presented and then further co-created with the Children’s Aid Society, with the goal of keeping Aboriginal families together and using traditional talking circles and the strengths of each family to support the next generation of children.
The practical piece of this model involved working with the parent that has been brought to the attention of CAS, to both advocate for their needs and choose and/or build a strong support network, creating a circle of care around the family. So an Aboriginal mother who struggles with addiction, resulting from childhood experiences of child sexual abuse, may choose a parent, a few friends, an Elder, and/or her psychotherapist to be in a traditional talking circle and talk about her needs and how these people can all work together to support her and her children. A concrete plan is made so ensure needs are met and the children can stay within the family unit while mom goes to treatment etc., with a trusted grandparent for example.
I am describing this model to you as it came up at recent peer case consultation I am a part of. My thoughts as this discussion wrapped up was that the Circle of Care model can be appropriated within private practice and with non-Aboriginal families. It can be a great way to support the mental health of stressed and struggling parents, even before CAS is a part of the equation. A psychotherapist would simply lead a discussion of who the trusted others are within their client’s life ex: mental health workers, friends, parents, a priest/rabbi etc. Those identified people are then invited to a meeting/circle to discuss how to support your client and their children. A circle involves every person present speaking their truth, concerns and what they can offer to support the situation ex: childcare for a parent to get much needed self-care. The facilitator/psychotherapist ensures respectful and helpful communication and dialogue. The psychotherapist then writes a short report on what the identified needs are, ideas to address it and the tentative plan made during the circle. This plan is then sent to each participant.
Within the Aboriginal community the circle is a spiritual/sacred space with an Elder leading that opens the circle using traditional medicines and a talking stick to ensure healthy sharing. So spirituality and religious traditions can be an important piece brought into this when working with our diverse families. However, it is also simple to not bring spirituality and cultural traditions into the process if your client does not make this a part of their daily life.
I love this idea for several reasons. So many of today’s families are doing it alone with little support ex: single parents, and a circle of care would be an amazing support to rely on in times of stress. Families simply do not come together as often as they should to connect and support each other. The Circle of Care model can result in an open support system so the psychotherapist is not the only support a struggling parent has. I truly feel it is model that can be used in private practice, although it was developed within large organizations with many support workers, and all families can benefit from it.
*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA