Resilient Hearts – An After-School Support Group for Youth Fleeing Family Violence

The Cause

Heart Home Network’s (HHN) vision is a community free of family violence. To do this, our mission is to support people at risk who have experienced family violence to live safely and successfully in our community. We are Alberta’s largest Second Stage shelter for women and children escaping family violence in Calgary and have plans underway to begin construction on a new shelter serving the Okotoks and Foothills region in 2023. Vulnerable women and children live in apartment style units for up to two years with us and have access to a variety of services in addition to housing. While living in our building, families have access to services such as weekly programming, childcare, internet and technology services, food, clothing, personal hygiene items, counselling and personal/professional development opportunities.

Heart Home Network is humbly requesting funds to kick-start our new pilot program, Resilient Hearts, which will support child survivors of family violence. The youth peer-group will be an after-school initiative guided by a certified counsellor and will help youth navigate life during traumatic events. This peer-based program will create vital outlets for youth to express fears/hopes and ask questions to gain other’s experiences. The curriculum will have a focus on the topics of family violence, guilt, trauma, shame and overall mental health, and will be delivered in an age-appropriate way reflective of each unique cohort. These conversations will be guided while moving through a trauma-informed education model that will mimic a school setting. This will create opportunities for youth to be involved in a social after-school program that may not be possible otherwise due to factors such as financial/transportation barriers or safety concerns.

The program will see 10-15 youth per cohort and plans to run three cohorts of eight-week intervals during the pilot program, commencing in January 2023. These 30-45 youth will be involved in the ongoing program delivery via a participant-centric model and will help evaluate ongoing efficacy.

The program is currently in development by the youth advisory team at Heart Home Network and will be completed in collaboration of colleagues from Calgary Board of Education (CBE) and Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter (CWES). With the generous funding from Field Law, we hope to launch the Resilient Hearts program in January, 2023.

Who Will it Benefit?

Each year, Heart Home Network is a temporary home for over 300 women and children who have fled from family violence. Of that number, nearly 200 of our residents are children. According to Statistics Canada, in 2018, 70% of young adults living with a mental health problem or illness report that their symptoms started in childhood. Early intervention through counseling is the best evidence-supported way, recommended by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, to improve the outlook for youth who are struggling. The Resilient Hearts program aims to provide an alternate layer to one-on-one counselling by providing a safe space for disadvantaged youth to gather in a group setting to bond over shared experiences.

A recent study was conducted from Wilfred Laurier University which highlights the importance of after-school programs, particularly for BIPOC, refugee and lower-income families. The presence of an after-school program was reported to make the youth feel safe, secure and heard; often for the first time in their lives. It is also a space in which different cultures, genders, and interest groups can be introduced, widening youth’s capacity for understanding and acceptance. As an organization, Heart Home Network serves 28% Indigenous, 26% English Canadian, 9% Asian, 15% African, and 6% Middle Eastern clients; and as such we show representation through the programming we offer. The Resilient Hearts After-School program will cater to the specialized needs of our youth residents, ensuring each group feels seen and gets as much out of the experience as possible. This new program will have a participant-centric lens that can be adapted to each unique group.

The benefits of this new program will extend past the youth attending the classes. The skills gained through this program will assist in soft skill building (communication, teamwork and leadership) that will be carried forth after the pilot concludes. The positive outcomes will also have direct impacts on the mothers and siblings in our building as we will be able to create a social outlet that is simply not possible otherwise. Our goal is that the participants from the program will go off with a greater capacity to deal with adversity and trauma, ultimately impacting the larger social service system for the better.