Working with a resilient grandmother to take care of her grandkids as their primary guardian

As a family support worker, Juanita Cloutier will regularly visit folks in their homes and help them navigate challenging circumstances. She provides education around healthy relationships, impacts of domestic violence, emotional regulation, parenting, and health. To do all of this, she takes great care and consideration in her approach to each individual.

One example is a grandmother Juanita worked with. She was the primary caregiver of her grandchildren who were struggling in school and faced learning disabilities. Her teenage granddaughter in particular had difficulties with substance abuse, an unhealthy relationship, and was frequently running away from home. When Children’s Services (CS) entered the picture, the grandmother grew more worried.

Due to the grandmother’s previous experiences, having her own children involved with CS, she didn’t have a lot of trust in these institutions. With this knowledge, Juanita started by working with the grandmother to build a relationship through a trauma-informed approach, building trust and safety. She gave plenty of space to the grandmother to talk and listened without judgment, acknowledging the pain that she had been through. Juanita connected to their shared indigenous background and helped the grandmother feel more at ease. The grandmother was uncomfortable meeting with Juanita at the house for various reasons. “So I opened the door for, ‘hey, I know places in the community where we can meet,” to give the grandmother choices for a safe environment. In one moving conversation, the grandmother said “she felt safe with Juanita.”

“It spoke volumes to me that I was on the right path in helping my clients,” says Juanita. “The relationships we’re creating with our clients are number one, and it gives me reassurance that practicing with a trauma-informed mindset and being culturally sensitive is such an important part of our job.”

They worked and learned together to reassess goals and options available as they reprioritized safely getting the granddaughter back into the grandmother’s care and attending school. It was a long journey that required Juanita supporting the family through court systems. In the end, the grandmother felt that she had reached her goals. Juanita brought intentionality to her work. She drew on the resilience of the grandmother by being open, creating safety, building a relationship based on trust, understanding and non judgemental and incorporating a culture of learning and reflection.

“It’s power with, not power over,” reflects Juanita. “That’s very significant for me and I just hold that very close to myself when working with my clients.”