Parent Support Services Society of BC offers support circles in Greater Victoria area that any parent or caregiver of a child can attend.
Maxine Machan, regional programs coordinator, said the circles aren’t strictly for parents, as a lot of grandparents are inheriting grandchildren that they had no plans on having — sometimes very suddenly.
“I spoke to a lady the other day that was suddenly given three boys, all under the age of eight with no warning because, unfortunately, the parent had died,” said Machan. “Sometimes these parents and caregivers have no support. They don’t even know where to start.”
The circles have been in the West Shore for about two years, going from eight eight or nine people down to three or four.
“We would hate to have to shut it down due to lack of attendance,” she said. “I was a single parent twice. PSS has been around 44 years. They were definitely around when I was as single parent, but I didn’t know about them.”
Usually, interested parents and caretakers in the area are asked to give Machan a call to provide some information in order to make sure they’re in the right circle. They are then given the location of the meetings, which are otherwise kept confidential. Each circle is run by two trained volunteer facilitators with 20 hours of initial training, with ongoing educational and skills training opportunities. Parents are allowed to drop in and go as they wish.
PSS uses community-based resources and expertise that are done in partnerships with local groups. Machan was on the phone earlier in the day with boys and girls clubs, which runs parenting programs.
“We act like a bridge very much to those programs,” she said.
If parents have a certain need, the group is “very responsive,” bringing in experts or a workshop to the circle, Machan said.
“[There’s] quite a range of resources at our fingertips,” Machan added.
PSS’s mandate is to “protect the safety and well-being of children and promote the health of all families by partnering with those in a parenting role and their communities to build support, advocacy, education, research, and resources,” according to the website.
The support groups are flexible and can be adapted to the needs of First Nations or recently landed immigrants depending on the community. “We’re working with the intercultural association and The Victoria Immigrant centre, she noted.
For immigrant communities balancing “cross-cultural values is a challenge that comes up a lot,” she added.
Sometimes circles will start up under PSS’s guidance to answer parents who have children with special needs, such as ADHD and opioid survivors. Machan also points to circle group that focuses on supporting children living with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.
Coordinators don’t attend meetings to ensure privacy, but Machan said she hears of parents who are dealing with feelings of isolation because “lack of friendships or support.”
Parents and caregivers share challenges in circles and hear other parent’s ideas and suggestion for how they succeeded in meeting those challenges.
“They get that sense of empowerment that they actually know more than they think they do,” Machan said.
“I think the most important thing about the circles is that, for one thing, they’re free, safe, non-judgmental and confidential and that’s very critical because parents feel like they can come and talk freely with peers and know that it doesn’t leave the room.”
PSS has a “grandparents raising grandchildren” phone line manned by a social worker and lawyer on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“It’s a really valuable line and, as far as we know, the only one in Canada,” she said.
For grandparents particularly, “their skills are pretty rusty,” Machan says with a small laugh. “They haven’t parented for many, many, many years.”
Meetings are held in four Greater Victoria locations:
– Colwood: Second and fourth Tuesday of every month, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. (For parents)
– View Royal: Second Friday of the month, from 10 to 11:30 a.m. (For Grandparents & Kinship Caregivers)
– Saanich: Second and fourth Monday of every month, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. (For parents)
– Esquimalt: Monday evenings every two weeks, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. (For Grandparents & Kinship Caregivers)
Call 250-384-8042 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for information about the circles. Grandparents and caregivers can also call the support line at 1-855-474-9777.