‘Heart work’ that heals families
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The six-storey apartment on Gaylene Street, just off Pembina Highway, is not spectacular from the outside, but it represents a new beginning for many First Nations families.
Makoon Transitions Inc. was founded in 2020 by Kendra Inglis and a partner who is no longer with the organization. The program is a supported living environment that was developed to create safe spaces and equip families with the resources and programming they need to reunify and transition out of the child welfare system. They take children out of foster care and put them back in their homes with their parents. The approach is holistic and team-based. Families who take part are encouraged to learn and practise healthy parenting skills, so the cycle of child removal is broken.
Makoon has had 345 intakes, which includes 50 couples, 18 single fathers, and 276 single mothers. Currently the wait list is up to 193 families, including two families from out of province. For various reasons, they have had to decline to take in 33 families. This year they have provided services to 37 families and have had 43 children successfully reunify with their families.
Inglis sits at her desk, her office is awash in art. Across from her is a table that holds the sacred items of her bundle — a turtle rattle, medicine, a drum, beaded pendants. Many are gifts from community members — a nod of appreciation for the work she is doing to put families back together. On the wall there is an overflowing bulletin board with pictures of smiling children, and heartfelt letters from past residents.
“Thank you Kendra, you picked me up at my lowest point and saved us,” reads part of one letter.
Inglis dumps a large Ziploc bag with orange handprints made of paper on the table. Written on the paper is a caption that says “what Makoon means to me…” with all sorts of replies. These are love notes of sorts from people who have been given a second chance. As she sorts through them, Inglis is brought to tears.
One, written in children’s printing says “Being with my mom,” another says “No foster home anymore.” Another simply says “safe.”
Prior to Makoon, Inglis worked in several different fields in child welfare, and her main focus was always on reunification of the family. But, she says, the systems are broken and the only thing that will change them is a radical approach.
“I loved what I was doing, but I just knew I could do more,” she said.
Sprinkled throughout the apartment complex, where Makoon residents live in 34 units, there are a handful of suites that have been converted into offices and support rooms for families. The building also houses residents who are not part of the supportive living environment; they lived there prior to Makoon moving in.
“Parents were struggling to get their kids home, regardless of whether they made life changes or not. You see these parents and when they lose their kids it’s a slippery slope,” Inglis explained. “They’ve lost everything that’s kept them motivated and it was just heartbreaking to watch.”
Inglis started Makoon with money she received from her day school settlement and by opening a line of credit. The program can sustain itself through funding from Jordan’s Principle. Once a family is accepted into the program and living in the building, they are assigned a case manager to access community supports.
“What do you need to unify with kids? Well, to come to Makoon you need to have done a little bit of the work. If your kids were apprehended because of addiction, we want you to get treatment, because we are not a treatment centre,” she said.
“We want to give the power back to our families, and that means that they need to do a self referral. We want to advocate for the parents; when they apply we reach out to the (child welfare) agency and 90 per cent of the time the agency is on board, because here they get a case manager who deals with all the day-to-day stuff with them. We make sure they have all their IDs, we make sure their kids have their IDs. We make sure, you know, dental, optical, doctors — all that stuff is in place while they’re here so that when they transition out, it’s smooth.”
Families who need a bit of extra support are paired with a support worker from the Clan Wellness Team to establish routines and boundaries and receive encouragement.
The operation is what Inglis calls “heart work.”
“When you know you’re doing the right thing, it does not feel like work,” Inglis says.
To learn more, visit makoon.ca
Columnist, Manager of Reader Bridge project
Shelley is a born and raised Winnipegger. She is a proud member of the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation.
Updated on Monday, November 7, 2022 8:58 AM CST: Adds web headline
Updated on Monday, November 7, 2022 4:13 PM CST: Adds photos, new formating