CEO blog: Faye Missar & Sarah Hagar on youth and health in Clayoquot Sound

Faye Missar Sarah Hagar

This article is part of a monthly blog series where Children’s Health Foundation’s CEO Veronica sits down with stakeholders and community leaders to gain insight into the challenges Island families face today and to shed light on the great work being done in the community.

Veronica recently had a conversation with Faye Missar and Sarah Hagar to talk about the current health challenges families in Clayoquot Sound are facing and to learn more about a new program they’ve introduced to help youth dealing with trauma and loss.

Faye works at the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust (CBT) as well as the Coastal Family Resource Coalition (CFRC), where she coordinates a network of health and social service providers working in the region to promote child, youth, and family health in the region. Sarah, who also works part-time as an elementary school counsellor, works with Faye on the West Coast Children’s Resilience Initiative, a project funded by Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island and run through the CBT and CFRC.

How did the West Coast Children’s Resilience Initiative (WCCRI) come about?

Faye: The idea for the project first started when the local action team for child and youth mental health, which Sarah was a part of, was coming to an end. They were gaining a lot of traction and engagement working around trauma-informed practice and capacity building in schools. Supporting youth dealing with trauma and loss has been a big focus within our region, and because schools are a primary community for children and youth outside of the family environment, it seemed like a good thing to keep pursuing. When the funding opportunity arose with the Children’s Health Foundation, the idea around creating the WCCRI was formed and we hired Sarah to coordinate the project.

The West Coast Children’s Resilience Initiative is focused on using trauma-informed practices in schools. Can you tell us a bit more about what a trauma-informed approach is?

Sarah: A trauma-informed approach is based on the understanding that people are responding to the experiences they’ve had. A good example of it is how we deal with youth substance use at school. When youth are coming to school high, the way this is usually addressed is by suspending them or even eventually expelling them. But that’s not going to build a better society. The more people are acting out and struggling, the more they need to be connected with and understood. A trauma-informed approach to this would be finding out who this person naturally has connections with and how they can spend more time with these people. If they have an incident of substance abuse at school, how can we provide them with connections to youth addiction services?

What led both of you to work in careers involving children’s health?

Sarah: When I worked as a teacher, my first experiences were in Indigenous communities where I saw firsthand the impact that intergenerational traumas have on children and communities. As a teacher, I was interested in how I could help these children and families feel safe and comfortable in their learning environments.

Faye: For me, I grew up in Ucluelet, so I have lived experience of being a youth growing up in this region. The lack of recreation opportunities and supports available for children and youth was apparent. I left to pursue my post-secondary education, which furthered my passion for building supportive and healthy environments for children and youth. I was so strongly tied to this beautiful place, which is what drew me back and I feel so blessed to have found a career here where I can work towards empowering youth in our community.

What have been your biggest challenges and accomplishments in your current roles?

Sarah: My biggest challenges with conducting this project have been that we don’t have the resources to adequately cover some of the work. The West Coast Children’s Resilience Initiative is more about systems change and working with teachers to build an understanding of trauma-informed practice. However, schools are often the first place parents come when something has happened in the family, so I have ended up spending a lot of my days doing crisis intervention. It’s been a challenge to be able to stay in the big picture of supporting and engaging with schools. In terms of accomplishments, I think one has been working on creating more communication and partnerships between schools and parents. It’s not about judging parents who don’t come to meetings, it’s about calling them and asking what barriers they are facing and how can we support them. Just going that extra mile.

Faye: Some of the challenges I see reflect what Sarah has said around a lack of adequate resources, and part of that is because we are a remote region and many of our health and social service providers are based in Port Alberni or beyond. Transportation is a huge barrier for people here, we have no public transit and now with construction and road closures, it’s been hard for people to access services. In terms of accomplishments, every two years the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust (CBT) produces a Vital Signs report, which reports on the social and environmental determinants of health in our region, such as housing, income equality, climate change. This has become one of our best sources for local data because often the data for our region is amalgamated with a larger population centre, such as Port Alberni, which has made us invisible. We’ve been working really hard to collect local data for this report so that we can properly inform the community projects we’re working on.

What makes the Clayoquot Sound region unique in terms of its community and health care needs?

Sarah: There’s so much. We are unique in that we are rural and remote, but we also have an incredible amount of visitors who come through, which has made the cost of living quite high. Our Nuu Chah Nulth nations are geographically spread out so people have to travel to access community or health care services or wait for services to come to them. Sometimes travel can affect employment opportunities as well. People work hard here, but the wages are quite low so finding affordable housing and childcare is a big challenge. I would say that in most families here, one or both of the parents work more than one job. Because of that, there’s a huge need for childcare but it’s often not affordable, which means a lot of kids end up being out on their own before they are ready. I also think it’s unique in that many of the people who live here are not from here, which means we have a lot of families here that don’t have an extended support network. Because of all of this our communities tend to require more support services.

Is the problem with housing and affordable childcare a big priority in your organizations?

Faye: Yes, absolutely. At the CBT, we produce a living wage report which we present to different community stakeholders to help inform their decision making, and hopefully introduce policy that will reduce costs for families in the region. Currently, our cost of living is the highest in BC. So we’re trying to promote awareness, and inform public policy and healthy decision making around the cost of living.

Has this played a factor in terms of the need for the West Coast Children’s Resilience Initiative?

Sarah: Definitely. The busier and more stressed parents become, the more challenging it becomes to just be present and available to our children; how people respond to stress has a great effect on children. Schools are the place kids spend the most time outside of their family; therefore, schools are in an influential position to offer a healing, nurturing and learning environment. Schools can also support families to connect to community supports.

Lastly, when you’re not working, how do you like to enjoy the community you live in?

Faye: I recently put on a moms’ surf club through the CBT Neighbourhood Small Grants program. We had some babysitters on the beach and a whole bunch of moms of all surf levels came together and we went out and surfed and laughed and ended with some snacks on the beach. Growing up in Ucluelet, I’ve met so many different people through surfing, and it really opens up a whole new community.

Sarah: Yes, I would say being outside and being active with my kids. We’re fortunate to have the access to nature that we do.

The Clayoquot Biosphere Trust started in 2000 when the region was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Through education, research, and celebration, the Trust works to provide the tools necessary to build a better future for people living in Clayoquot Sound.

Children’s Health Foundation is proud to help fund programs like the West Coast Children’s Resilience Initiative. By making a gift to the Kids First Fund, you can help ensure there’s continued support for community health care programs for years to come.