Brantford’s Woodview Mental Health and Autism Services hosted its second community town hall of the year on Wednesday, May 10, 2023.
Woodview offers services and support to children and adolescents who are dealing with mental health challenges and for those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
“Woodview provides mental health and autism services for children and youth under 18 and their families,” said Nicki Straza, the Youth and Family Engagement Lead. “We offer counseling, all different kinds of programs, and resources for children and youth. We also support their families, and we really try to take that holistic approach with our families because they’re an important part of it.”
The organization is made up of social workers, child and youth workers, consulting professionals and autism specialists. Together they work in partnership with individuals and families to provide individualized client-centred services that focus on skill-building, relationships, resilience, independence and coping strategies.
“It’s so easy in our society to dehumanize and depersonalize things based on a diagnosis,” she said. “It’s awful because a person isn’t just the “thing” that they are dealing with. A person who is struggling with autism or thoughts of suicide or cancer, or whatever it is – they are a person first and they have these additional challenges in life, so we really care about making sure we keep that personhood is front and center here.”
Straza also discussed the importance of partnership when listening, understanding and getting access to reliable resources for mental health, especially during waitlist periods.
“There’s so much that happens to us as people and it shapes who we are in this moment, and I think it’s really important that we understand and recognize that mental health isn’t just a cognitive exercise, it’s about nutrition and sleep, home environment, health care and access to doctors,” she said. “Community partners like the Ontario Health Team are huge because we can’t do everything, but there are other people who are way better at things than we are and so we can develop those partnerships so that everyone wins.”
Hosting community town halls gives the organization a better chance to foster meaningful engagement with families and individuals in the community.
“Meaningful engagement has become so important because I think every company out there wants your feedback, but meaningful engagement means we’ve taken your feedback and we’ve have done something with it and then we come back to tell you about what we’ve done and the changes that we’ve made based on what you’ve said that’s meaningful,” said Straza.
The town halls also give people an opportunity to talk about the challenges they are experiencing, and to recognize gaps and challenges with topics like preventative services.
“I open it up to the entire community because there are a lot of people who are struggling inside, and this may be the one thing that helps to connect them with Woodview and the services we offer because maybe they didn’t know we existed. In a town hall, there’s an opportunity to vent or express what’s challenging them. It’s networking, coming together and having a real conversation that is both therapeutic and resourceful for people because now we’re sharing knowledge and learning from each other.”
A big theme coming out of the town halls is the imperfect relationship between mental health services and school boards.
“One of the challenges our families really experience is the fact that mental health supports are not funded excellently in the school board,” said Straza. “They’re limited because of union rules and different things about reaching to outside services. So now, we are really working to build those relationships and see if we can advocate for external services to come in and support some of these kiddos because our students don’t know where to go and the schools can’t tell their students about us.”
Woodview will be holding two more town hall sessions, one in July and another in September, and Straza encourages the community to come out virtually or in person to help participate in meaningful engagement.