Catholic Family Service programs helping children in Prince Albert

Jodi Schellenberg
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Often children have to deal with violent situations they don’t know how to deal with.

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Three unique programs -- Taming the Tiger, Riding the Wave and Climbing the Rock -- are put on by Catholic Family Services of Prince Albert three times each year to help children dealing with anger management or violence in their lives.

All three programs are free thanks to funding from the Government of Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice Victim Services, said Rose Rothenburger, director of programming for Catholic Family Services.

Taming the Tiger is an anger management class for children between the ages of six and 12, with a component for parents as well.

“Whatever the children are learning on that particular night, the parents are also learning so they can take the skills they learn home and the parents can help the children to work with those skills,” Rothenburger said. “Sometimes the parents learn things too that they were not aware of before.”

Rothenburger said Riding the Wave is also set up with a child and parent component.

“That one deals with children who have been exposed to violence and it can be any type of violence -- domestic, bullying, gang related,” Rothenburger said. “It does deal with any kind of violence children may have to deal with.”

It will teach children skills to defuse situations, how to walk away, stay safe and other important skills.

“The parents, at the same time, will learn those skills as well, so they can reinforce them in the children but also the parents will also learn how violence affects their children,” Rothenburger said.

Both programs run for six weeks at a time, taught by five facilitators who are well trained in dealing with children -- usually people who work in social services or are teachers.

The groups are divided into three groups -- parents, children six to nine years old and children 10 to 12 years old.

“The children all learn the same program but (in different groups) for age appropriateness,” Rothenburger explained.

Being a group program, the children all share their stories with each other.

“Part of it being a group program it is therapeutic in one child might say something that has happened to him and that will give another child to have the confidence to say, ‘You know what, the same thing happened to me’ or ‘Something like that happened to me,’” Rothenburger said.

That gives the facilitator the chance to see the different types of things children are dealing with and a chance to focus on what specific areas affect each group.

“The program is quite flexible in that way,” Rothenburger said. “As a rule, each child gets the best possible outcome of the program because we can shape it to that child’s need.”

There have been so many successful and interesting stories Rothenburger has come across while working with the program.

“There are a lot of really good stories, but because there are so many I would say that not one sticks out more than the others,” she said. “There have been a lot of sad stories too, but I hope the ones with sad stories we have given them some skills and some help to help them change that situation in their lives.

“What I find most satisfying or gratifying is the rapport that is built up between the children and the facilitator,” Rothenburger said. “It doesn’t take long -- it takes a couple weeks.”

The other free program, Climbing the Rock, is for youth 15 to 19 years old, said facilitator Hazel Arcand, who has been with the program about four years.

The eight-week program focuses on different topics each week, to help youth deal with situations in a better, more positive way instead of taking violent action, she said.

“It kind of introduces the concept of violence, where they see and how to deal with in a different way than they have up until they take the program,” Arcand said. “It also helps them try to overcome struggles in life that might lead to violence -- for instance we talk about self-esteem and also discuss gang issues, violence in the home and different types of abuse people are exposed to and how to deal with it in a more positive way.”

They focus a lot on self-esteem, communicating with peers and family members and how to avoid unhealthy situations they may come across.

“We talk about aggression, how to cope with it, how to identify problems and find a proper solution to some of those problems,” Arcand said.

There have been a variety of different youth they have dealt with, depending on the school they run the program in, she said.

“There always is a risk of violence in their home depending on where they come from and how they are living their lives at school and home,” Arcand said.

There has been a lot of positive feedback on the program, she said.

“After we are done the program, we do a debriefing after each class, the kids always have something positive to say (such as, ‘I’m going to be able to take this forward into my school life or my home life,’” she said. “It is a really rewarding program for them once they can get in.”

Once they feel comfortable in the group setting, they will share stories of situations in their lives.

“I know the participants will come forward and share stories and some of the stories, they are a little sad the things they have to deal with and they are exposed to violence everywhere,” Arcand said. “They see it on the playground at school and they have mentioned they stick up for friends and try to pull them out of unhealthy situations.

“I have also had some students talk about encouraging friends not to give up if they have been exposed to abuse,” she added. “A couple of participants have mentioned even if they are feeling down, they want to help their friends so they encourage them to stay focused on the positive things in their lives.”

After they are more comfortable, they open up and are willing to participate more, not just sharing stories, but through roleplaying.

“That is a good thing because when we are dealing with something as serious and negative as violence in their homes and at school and personal stuff, when it comes down to acting and role playing and talking about it, they are very happy to share,” Arcand said.

Rothenburger has been with Catholic Family Services for two years, but said the programs have been running for a lot longer.

“I know when I look back at some of the documents I’ve come across, some go back 10 to 15 years,” Rothenburger said.

She said there have also been amazing facilitators in the programs.

“I inherited incredible facilitators -- a few of them have been doing it for around 10 years,” Rothenburger said. “They are really good -- they know if something needs to be taken to a different place (and) will recommend to a parent that maybe the child needs counselling.”

Arcand said the programs are open to anyone, not just those who are Catholic or religious.

“If there are people out there and youth that are struggling and need something to help them cope with life, our program is something that tries to do that for people with any situation they may need help with,” she said.

Anyone interested in the programs is encouraged to contact Catholic Family Services at (306) 922-3202 to find out more information.

Organizations: Catholic Family Service, Catholic Family Services of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan Ministry of Justice Victim Services

Geographic location: Prince Albert

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