Family And Carers Council

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 16 service sites across Canada.

Welcome! You’re Among Family

The AFC Council 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 national AFC Council.

“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

  • About Us

    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 
  • Community Involvement

    AFC Council 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 ACCESS OM Chatham-Kent hub. I offer peer support and navigate families to services in the community that 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 & Collaborations

    In recent months, various organizations have contacted and/or collaborated with AFC Council 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, and CMHA.

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

  • Conferences

    As patient-oriented research gains traction, the AFC Council’s experiences as key stakeholders of CIHR’s first SPOR initiative are very 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 Gould (Eskasoni First Nation) attended the SPOR summit to represent the AFC share her knowledge of family engagement in the ACCESS OM project and in community settings.

Meet the Family & Carers

Yvonne P. (Chair)

Yvonne leads the Family and Carers Council at ACCESS Open Minds in a way that showcases the council as examples of who they are: people who show up, commit to being seen, to self-care, to growth and development. She fosters collaborative approaches that recognizes and allows each member of the council to bring their experience and passion to the forefront of their projects. As a former peer support worker at the Douglas University Health Institute, Yvonne values families and collaboration and is committed to the transformation of youth mental health services across Canada. In her spare time, she loves the arts and connecting with nature. She draws on her professional experience to explore and inform the use of bio-materials in order to elicit emotional responses from participants. Her work focuses on how to make the “unseen”, “seen”.

Karen Pinkoski

Karen Pinkoski is a Member-at-Large of the Access Open Minds Family and Carers Council. Her day job is as a Student Services Advisor at the University of Alberta with a side gig as a student at the University of Calgary in the Bachelor of Social Work program. Karen lives in Edmonton with her partner and two adult children, along with a super-duo of rescue animals, dog Pippin and cat Oscar.

Mary Anne Levasseur (Former Chair)

Mary Anne Levasseur is a coordinator and facilitator of Family Peer Support at Prevention and Early Intervention Program for Psychosis (PEPP-Montreal), Douglas Mental Health University Institute. In addition, she helped establish the ACCESS Open Minds Family & Carers Council, and continues to contribute to its activities. Mary Anne has extensive experience in peer support work with family and caregivers, and has participated in various family advisory committees and family-focused research projects. She hopes that sharing her experience, knowledge and passion in supporting family caregivers in navigating mental healthcare systems helps them as they assist their youth, and helps ensure a needed focus on families/carers in mental health services and research.

Laurie Roeszler

Laurie Roeszler lives in Chatham-Kent with her family. Part of her week is spent as Family Navigator at ACCESS Open Minds, providing peer support and system navigation. Through her lived experience supporting a son with mental health concerns, Laurie provides validation and understanding of the family journey. She strives to build and utilize community resources in order that families are better equipped with tools needed for their journey, and encourages families to realize their importance to the care team. Laurie is passionate that the small community in which she lives offers the same evidence-based programming and quality care that larger communities in Ontario, and beyond, possess.

Kathy Shettell

Kathy Shettell currently works as a Family Peer Support Worker with Alberta Health Services Young Adult Cross Level Services team that provides Mental Health and Addictions treatment to 16-25 year olds and their family. Kathy brings her own lived experiences of supporting her son who lives with mental illness and addictions. She has intimate knowledge of the struggles of navigating the health care system. Kathy shares her experiences with others with the hope that she can raise awareness around mental illness. Kathy wants to continue to raise awareness about the importance of including families by walking alongside other families, offering education and strategies for supporting their loved one. Workers will come and go but family is forever.

Laura Tootoosis