Project governance

Family and Carers Council


You’re among family

The AFC Council of Family and Carers – A dedicated team!


ACCESS Open Minds Family and Carers Council (AFC) represents the voice of family in the ACCESS Open Minds (ACCESS OM) national research and evaluation network, which aims to transform youth mental health services at 14 service sites across Canada.

The AFC warmly welcomes family and carers of loved ones with mental health concerns. Whether you are a parent, a partner, a sibling, a foster family member, a friend, a roommate or extended family, we welcome you to join our AFC national council.


Family and Carer Reality

Mental illness can have a profound impact on young people and their circle of care. Family and carers face significant challenges in caring for their young person, learning new ways to support and care for their youth along the way.

Too often, family and carers feel isolated and uninformed as they try to understand the experience of their loved one. They attempt to navigate the healthcare system and rules of confidentiality to ensure that their loved one receives the best available care. Families and carers deal with stigma and juggle the emotional, social and economic costs associated with mental illness. They do their best to figure it all out and, too frequently, end up feeling alone, helpless, and exhausted.

A new role, a new relationship

ACCESS OM and the AFC Council are creating a new space for family and carers in youth mental health service planning and delivery. ACCESS OM recognizes that family and carers are an important resource for youth with mental health concerns. Including family and carers means meeting with them where they are at – in their own communities – and being responsive to family and carer cultural diversity.

Family and carers need to know what resources they can rely on for help where they live and through their own culture and tradition.  And they must also be able to connect to and be part of the circles of support found in their local communities.

Our expertise- lived experience

Among its members, the AFC Council counts on a wide variety of lived experience from culturally diverse, rural and remote, urban and Indigenous communities.

The AFC Council understands what family and carers need to be able to effectively support their loved ones:

  • information and education
  • emotional support and self-care
  • a collaborative relationship with service providers
  • to be actively involved – “engaged” – in our loved one’s recovery

What we've been up to

“As members of the ACCESS OM network, we are each part of something amazing and life-changing called ACCESS OM. We are now in the “home stretch” of the project, and this is often where the rich learning pays off in terms of greater insights and creativity! Learning from where we’ve come through this ACCESS OM journey, we press on to the goal: supporting families.”  – Laurie Roeszler, family-carer representative, Chatham-Kent site

Conference season for AFC 
As patient-oriented research gains traction, AFC’s experiences as key stakeholders of CIHR’s first SPOR initiative are highly relevant and valuable beyond the ACCESS OM Network.
In October 2018, AFC members Yvonne Pelling (Montreal) and Mary Anne Levasseur (Montreal) spoke about AFC’s insights into factors that facilitate or hinder family engagement at CMHA’s centennial conference. They described the diversity of approaches to meet the needs of families: AFC members are family advisors, navigators and family peer supporters.

Norma attended the SPOR summit to represent the AFC share her knowledge of family engagement in the ACCESS OM project and in community settings.

AFC involvement in their communities 
AFC members spearhead various initiatives in their respective communities:

“I offer a holistic, client centred approach to navigating various systems that are offered to First Nations both in and out of the community. By walking with them through their journey of holistic wellness and healing, we can work towards healing the family and the community as well.” – Norma G., Eskasoni First Nation

“I help coordinate family-carer projects across ACCESS OM sites and work in a local hospital clinic as a facilitator of family peer support.” – Mary Anne Levasseur, Montreal

“I am family navigator at the Chatham-Kent ACCESS OM hub. I offer peer support and navigate families to services in the community which best suit their desires and needs.” – Laurie R., Chatham-Kent

“I am the Chapter Co-Leader in Chatham-Kent for our ‘Parents for Children’s Mental Health’, an opportunity to provide support to parents in the journey they are on with their children.” – Heather B., Chatham-Kent

“I am the family peer support worker. I meet families in the community for peer support and I help families with finding resources and navigating the health care system. I also help facilitate family education and support groups.” – Kathy S., Edmonton

Partnerships and connections
In recent months, various organizations have contacted and/or collaborated with AFC members to learn from our experiences as drivers of family engagement and proponents of family peer support, including: Youth Wellness Hubs Ontario, FRAYME, Mental Health Commission of Canada, Foundry BC, CMHA.

In addition, AFC council chair, Mary Anne Levasseur (Montreal) along with Dr. Srividya N. Iyer, Manuela Ferrari, Amal Abdel-Baki and others, were awarded a groundbreaking Quebec (CIUSSS Ouest de l’Île) funded SPOR research grant to develop and facilitate a Quebec wide consensus building conference on family engagement and family peer support in youth mental health, in over 30 First Episode Psychosis Programs.

Looking to the future
The year concluded with AFC’s annual workshop dedicated to strategic planning to set out the road map for the year ahead. Building and sustaining membership, knowledge sharing and capacity building, as well as co-design and co-participation with the ACCESS OM National Youth Council and ACCESS OM researchers in an arts-based research project, will be top priorities for 2019.

New members
AFC membership continues to grow. New members include Elizabeth Ashamock from the Cree Nation of Mistissini, Laura Tootoosis from Sturgeon Lake First Nation and Laurie Sutherland from Edmonton. The Council would like to thank Tom McCarthy for his leadership and vision. Tom resigned from Council after 3 years as the financial officer for a well-deserved retirement.

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