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Culturally-safe care, close to home

Learn how the Compass program is making a difference to Indigenous youth living in remote communities.
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Chastity from the community of Ahousaht.

​Growing up in a small, remote community, Dimicia Speck, Indigenous Care Coordinator for BC Children’s Compass program, knows first-hand the impacts that living in a remote Indigenous community can have on youth.

“As a kid, I lived in a community only accessible by ferry, and then as a teenager, in a fly-in fly-out only community,” she explains. “Having restricted access to resources has a big impact on youth and so when we’re able to approach care and teach others to work in culturally safe ways, it makes a big difference to patients and their families.”

January 11 is We See You Day—a day marked to let the youth living in remote Indigenous communities know that they are not invisible and to raise awareness for programs and services that provide support to those living in these communities.

Supporting providers caring for youth in rural communities

Compass is a virtual consultation program serving all of B.C. and the Yukon. It was created three years ago with the realization that most children and youth who access care at BC Children’s Hospital reside in the surrounding areas, and that we needed to reach people where they lived. Compass gives health-care providers—such as physicians, nurses and social workers—contacts to get advice on caring for youth under the age of 25 with mental health or substance use concerns who live in rural remote and Indigenous communities. The service is also open to community care providers—such as Indigenous Elders or youth workers—who don’t have health care designations, but provide support to youth in these rural and remote communities.

Youth in the Ask Auntie program participating in an outdoor activity.

“In Indigenous communities, youth sometimes feel more comfortable turning to their community care providers when it comes to their mental health,” says Hali McLennan, a Social Worker with the Compass program. “This might be because it’s easier for them to access a community care provider in a time of need or it’s more comfortable for them,” she says, explaining that the community care providers can contact Compass without fees for service and as many times as they need, to get support or advice based on the scope of their abilities.

Over the coming months, Compass is working on an outreach program specifically for Indigenous community care providers to raise awareness for Compass’ services through gift-giving for nations and organizations, as well as education and promotions. The goal? To find out what they need from us and how we can improve our services and better meet their needs, so we can ultimately improve the care for Indigenous youth in Indigenous communities.

Teaching culturally safe practices and connecting to resources

There are many barriers when it comes to accessing care in remote Indigenous communities, many of which stem from the impacts of colonization, oppression and systematic racism that continue to affect First Nations People’s access and interactions within our health care system. From poor internet connection to simply having access to a phone number—the unique challenges that exist for youth in these communities is a big part of Compass’ role in providing advice and support to non-Indigenous providers.

Hali McLennan, Social Worker and Dimicia Speck, Indigenous Care Coordinator for Compass.​

“Often, care providers don’t ask if their patients are Indigenous,” says Hali. “This creates barriers from the very beginning as we don’t know if we should be providing targeted care for that youth because we don’t know that this is something they might need.” 

Hali and Dimicia provide coaching to providers who are less familiar with working with Indigenous communities about how they can engage with them, who they can look to in the community if youth are not well connected, as well as walk through how to access services that are appropriate for their patient’s needs.

“I like to teach providers about cultural attachment theory and explain how culture can be medicine. This might look like suggesting that a youth attend a ceremony as part of their mental health treatment care, connecting with an Elder or pointing them to specific teachings that could be helpful for that youth’s circumstance,” Hali explains. “While I don’t have lived experience living in a remote community, I feel good knowing our program is providing a service to communities that are often underserved by other programs and services.”

“Being able to bring culturally safe care and practices to youth and their families living in remote Indigenous communities is the most important thing we can do in order to provide better care to Indigenous youth,” says Dimicia.

Learn more

To learn more about Compass’ services and program, visit their website.

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