Beneficial programs for SE Alta. families

The Bridges Family Programs Association has many different programs offered that are to help parents grow with their children. 

All programs are free, confidential and voluntary. Bridges Programs are described as an “umbrella” comprised of five distinct programs such as the “BRIDGES PROGRAM provides support, information, family service planning, and advocacy services to individuals, expecting a child or who have children under the age of eighteen in Medicine Hat, Redcliff, Dunmore, Brooks and Newell & Cypress County.” Bridges also operates the FASD ASSESSMENT & SUPPORT SERVICES(FASS); Southeast Alberta Home Visitation Programs which supports expectant parents and families with children 0-6; First Steps which helps women who are pregnant who have used used or are using drugs or alcohol and Best Babies-Best Babies is part of Home Visitation.

Parent Education is one such facet for Bridges. The Parent Education portion of Bridges hosted a Sensory Group event Oct. 14 at the Seven Persons Community Hall.

Jody Schlenker and Kyle Bitschy are both parent educators who work for Bridges and are the leads for the Sensory Group in Seven Persons. 

A hurdle parental help groups are overcoming in the rural areas in general is that of stigma. With times and attitudes changing regarding asking for helping?help, learning new parenting or coping skills or how to best manage mental health for both the child and adult is becoming more the normal.

“The interest is there and people are not scared to get help,” explains Schlenker who says those who go to events may feel awkward because they have a lot on their plates but they don’t want anyone to know they are struggling. “”There’s fear in that.” 

Schlenker adds that perhaps potential participants may be concerned it will get too technical and they are trying to label different issues. People who are interested in participating in any of the parenting courses don’t have to have a child with an official diagnosis of something in order to take part.

Bridges Parent Education follows different methodologies depending on the courses needed such as Triple P Parenting to name one of many of the diverse and well researched strategies.

There are many popular programs however considering the social, economical and political climate we are in, Bitschy and Schlenker say they haven’t noticed a difference in regards to the demands of pressure or need of anxiety-alleviating parenting courses. In fact, even before COVID-19 hit, there seemed to be a need for more such anxiety-themed courses. 

“(However) COVID ramped up the training open in learning to deal with anxiety,” explained Schlenker. 

Schlenker says they do keep up well with what the needs of the communities are. Because each community is different, Bridges staff do their best to suit what each community needs: sometimes it’s services or occasionally, it’s a need for single or multi-day seminars. Where sometimes challenges happen, are those times when they may not be able to find sites to host these seminars or events and with the pandemic, it has been challenging. They have mixed in virtual events with the in-person ones and it has helped. 

They have to try and plan around community events or in many cases of the rural areas where there is harvesting going on. To time all of that with local facilities and their availability is sometimes difficult. 

“In that way, it is hard to find space sometimes,” adds Bitschy who adds if the clients happen to live out of town or have a profession where they are busy during evenings, it is sometimes “hard to consistently attend.”

Schlenker says they work with other agencies either in collaboration in developing specific seminars or are trying to find the best program for a particular family.

One of these collaborative programs with a parental theme is the Grandparents Group which has bi-weekly meetings at the Provincial Building in Room 1A and B on Thursdays from 10:30 a.m.-noon. They describe it as a support group for grandparents who are raising their grandchildren.  There are different topics including picky eats and diet, positive parenting, internet safety and how to talk to the grandchild if there are difficult situations. Bridges Family Programs partnered with the Miywasin Friendship Centre in order to organize this free of charge group.  

The Bridges Family Programs Association is in part funded through donations: public as well as corporate including Cancarb, Methanex and the Community Foundation of Southeastern Alberta. There is also funding they receive from Children’s Services, Alberta Health Services and Public Health Agency of Canada. 

If one wants to learn more about a specific Parent Education group, event or have a question, please contact Schlenker or Bitschy at kbitschy@memlane.com or jschlenker@memlane.com. For general inquiries or to refer, please call the main office at 403-526-7473.

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