Introducing a Child and Youth Care Practitioner
Lauren Comeau is a Hamilton Health Sciences child and youth care practitioner (CYC) who provides care to patients and their families through our Family Check-Up program (FCU). We’re pleased to feature Comeau’s role for Child and Youth Mental Health Week, taking place May 1 to 7.
The FCU is a family-centred intervention program that focuses on clients’ personal strengths and the social and community networks available to support them. It offers parents simple, practical skills to address the individual challenges they’re facing.
“Our team has the utmost respect for the role of the parent and caregiver,” says Comeau. “It’s important to remember that parents are the experts on their child’s lives.”
This FCU program is provided at our Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre (RJCHC), which is part of our McMaster Children’s Hospital (MCH). Together, they house one of the largest child and youth mental health programs in Canada.
Twenty years with children and youth
Comeau’s passion for working with children and youth began when she was a teenager working in leadership camps and volunteering in the community.
“I’ve been working in the field for close to 20 years, and started off my career in treatment homes with children and youth,” says Comeau. “From there I ventured into the education setting of youth justice and then obtained employment in the inpatient child and youth mental health unit at our McMaster Children’s Hospital.”
Comeau enjoyed working in the inpatient unit for two years but was eager to get more hands-on experience with families and offer other support services. When a job posting at the RJCHC came up for a CYC on the outpatient mental health team in 2016, Comeau jumped at the opportunity. “Working directly with parents of youth struggling with mental health was a shift from working directly with youth, but it was the best career move I ever made.”
Connecting to families
Comeau is connected to families through community and inter-professional referrals, then works alongside them to set goals and develop skills for the day-to-day support of their child. This work takes her to schools, hospitals, youth justice and outreach facilities, and other community settings. She aims to provide tools and skills to families, building on their existing strengths, that they can use during their unique situations.
The FCU program provides intervention services for around 100 families a year, with numbers increasing over the last couple of years.
Working together to achieve goals
“Parents are so important and often lack support,” says Comeau, who’s also part of the Clinical Outreach Team (COT). This team is responsible for supporting parents of children and youth accessing services within the Child and Youth Mental Health program. As part of the COT, Comeau offers one-on-one counselling sessions with parents. Working with families to help them achieve their goals while building connections is what Comeau enjoys most about her role.
“Making meaningful connections with parents is something I value. When a parent shares a good news story on their progress, it makes my day.”
Collaboration is pivotal when supporting youth and their caregivers/families. Comeau works on creating a tailored plan for each family she is introduced to, and provides a framework for success.
“Things can be overwhelming sometimes, and I always want parents and caregivers to feel that they have a safe space to turn to when it may feel a bit heavy,” says Comeau, adding that the parents she works with are her inspiration. “It can be very empowering for parents to know that they can meet their child’s needs. I am so grateful I get to be a part of that.”
The conversation evolves
Mental health has come a long way, especially for children and youth.
“Mental health is now being talked about, and it’s becoming more of a comfortable thing to share,” says Comeau. “There has definitely been a shift in openness to having conversations.”
“Parents and families matter. Having parents involved in treatment is so beneficial to the wellness of children, youth, and the family unit.”
Every family also has their own unique challenges. “It is a privilege to be invited into their lives and support them with their personal parenting goals,” says Comeau. “It’s a vital part of the work we do, and I feel honoured to have the opportunity each day to do so.”