Young Indigenous women, girls supported through Empower Project

Young Indigenous women and girls can seek support through The Empower Project (T.E.P) by the New Directions for Children, Youth, Adults and Families Inc. (New Directions).

T.E.P aims to provide intensive and individualized support for Indigenous young women ages 12 to 17 who are justice-involved and diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, or FASD.

Programming includes culturally informed substance abuse counselling, family and mental health support, along with skill-building, pro-social and recreational activities.

“The project is case-management focused, working with youth to attach them to cultural activities and programs as well as to connect them with knowledge keepers and Elders,” said Dr. Jennifer Frain, Chief Executive Officer of New Directions on Thursday.

“Many of these Indigenous females are not connected with their culture, so we want to provide support and healing to help them move forward with their lives in a good way because they are very vulnerable due to other barriers like racism and colonization.”

In Manitoba, Indigenous children make up the vast majority of children in care. Within this group, more than 10% of those children have FASD.

Presently, only two students are participating in the program, with an additional two to come. The two participants are now at the attachment stage whereby they start to learn how to develop relationships with others.

“Young women involved with the justice system who are diagnosed with FASD, because of the behaviour they displayed, it was hard to keep them connected into any type of regular programming,” said Cyndi Schotchenko, Manager of Training at New Directions.

“There was a discussion about what would work for this population because their needs were so specific and different. This was how the program came about.”

The Government of Canada’s Department of Justice provided approximately $587,000 over four years, from October 2020 to September 2023, to this project through the Youth Justice Fund.

Funding will be used for training allowances to students attached to the program, participant’s activities and materials, staff wages, presentations from external agencies and organizations in the city and other operating costs.

“Providing culturally appropriate and individualized services is key to helping young Indigenous women and girls who are involved in the justice system reach their full potential,” said David Lametti, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada in a press release.

“This program is not only part of advancing reconciliation; it also seeks to reduce the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system. This funding will assist New Directions to continue providing rehabilitation support to these young Indigenous women and girls living with the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure.”

When the program ends, Schotchenko hopes that the participants will leave with a better knowledge of mental health and substance awareness, along with a better understanding of relationships.

“At that point when things are working well for them, I hope they can try some form of schooling or try to increase their education,” she said.

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“Ultimately, I hope the cycle does not happen again and that each person who goes through the program can learn to live a safe, secure and fulfilled life.”

Nicole Wong is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Winnipeg Sun. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

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