The Satellite Programme

An extention of Browndale into the community


Mac Wallace, msw



Browndale's satellite program­me is based on the concept that the knowledge gained in the therapeutic family in the residen­tial treatment centre can be help­ful to families in the community. Through this programme, exper­ienced therapeutic parenting staff, resource staff and social workers trained in child care have offered their services to families in the Barrie-Newmarket area. Since the spring of 1972,12 com­munity families have been in­volved in the satellite programme.

Many children from troubled families attempt to cope with their problems in ways that make them unacceptable to the public school system. The Browndale school (described elsewhere in this issue) was made available to some of these children. Through the Browndale school's summer programme, some of these chil­dren, with their family workers, joined other Browndale staff and children in camping and canoe trips.

Kids hanging around street corners at night, kids rebelling against the public school system, these are symptoms of break­downs in communications within families. Symptoms, also, that no one is involved with families at the time that support could really be helpful to them.

Teachers point out problems to parents, police point out prob­lems to parents, but few agencies are able to provide support to a family before critical problems arise. For example, a welfare wor­ker might be aware that the new baby born into a family will likely cause serious problems due to jealousy from other family mem­bers. But he lacks the time and the resources to help the family accommodate the newcomer emotionally.

Many agencies have the facili­ties to assess what's wrong with a child, but few agencies have enough workers available with a sound knowledge of family dynamics to go in and provide support for the child's family. Some agency workers are fright­ened of getting involved with fam­ilies to that extent because they fear they will lose their "objectiv­ity" or that people will become dependent upon them.

You can avoid having a family become dependent on you by looking for the strengths within the family. Your role is suppor­tive. You must make your under­standing and knowledge available so that the individuals will be able to learn how to handle their prob­lems, how to parent their kids, how to relate to a husband or a wife and to the community.

You need to spend time with a family you are trying to help in this way because you need to get to know them as human beings. You cannot really get to know some­one in an office or traditional "in­terview" situation. You get to know people in their own homes. You have to become familiar with what it is they struggle with on an on-going, day-to-day basis.

The family also needs to get to know you, as a person, not as a "professional" who is there to see what's "wrong" with the fam­ily. They need to feel that you are there to find out what they can do, that you have faith in their ability to cope. What you are doing is co­operating with them to solve a common problem. It won't work if the family thinks - or if you think -that you have all the answers and their input is valueless. Your role is supportive. They must carry the main thrust of the change process.

Most of the families have come into the satellite programme through referrals from the schools; some from the Children's Aid Societies or community clinics. A Browndale social worker meets with the family in need to assess how much and what kind of help they need. Sometimes it is an advantage for the family and the child if the child comes to the Browndale school on a daily basis. During the summer the child might come to the Brown-dale camp. The psychologists and other professional staff who are available to the Browndale treat­ment programme are also avail­able to the families in our satellite programme.

One of our workers who had taken a child in the satellite pro­gramme to a recreational pro­gramme in the town became aware of another child there who obviously needed help. In res­ponse to Mike's friendly over­tures, the child began to follow Mike around and spend as much time with him as he could. The child needed help, he was look­ing for help, the question was how could we best help him? Mike discussed it with me and we thought the best approach would be for Mike to call the boy's parents and tell them that he had met their son and got to know him and ask him if he could come around sometime to meet them. As an agency that is involved in the community, we have the opportunity to approach people directly, as a neighbour might, in response to a natural concern of one person for another.

The advantage of helping a child while he is still living with his own family is that it relieves the family of the guilt and frustration they go through when a child is taken from them. If we can avoid the necessity of the parents hav­ing to say to themselves, "We are inadequate, we can no longer help our child, he has to be re­moved from us," then I think we've done a lot toward achieving a stability in the family that might otherwise be lost forever. And as important as this is for the par­ents, it is even more important to the child, because the most im­portant people in a child's life are his parents; and the most impor­tant problem for him to resolve is his tangled relationship with his parents.

I think the satellite programme has a fantastic potential for ex­pansion. More and more, though, I see us as a catalyst bringing together the resources of the community, including volunteers. Young couples who haven't yet started their own family and who would like to learn more about the parenting role, might want to help someone else who has half a dozen children and is feeling overburdened.

I grew up in a small community in New Brunswick where people were concerned about their neighbours. I think the potential for bringing back that neighbour­ly concern does exist but it will take a lot of work by a lot of peo­ple who are ready and able to be­come really involved with other people and who are prepared to accept the responsibility of rela­tionship with other people. At Browndale we need to become more involved in the community around us, not only as profession­als, but also as concerned citizens.

I hope we can initiate and sup­port the development of commun­ity resource centres which would be staffed 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week, by experienced child care staff who would be available to people in the com­munity in times of crisis and as on-going support to them in their efforts to parent, their children. In time, as experienced citizens and other community agencies became involved these resource centres could be operated by the community for the community.