Tuning Our Voice

Submitted on Wednesday, 01/19/2022 - 2:47 pm

Hull Services Listens to Young People and Families’ Experiences to Strengthen Programs through Advisory Council

Behind the voice of Hull Services stands many psychologists, clinicians, frontline staff, and a lot of other professionals who care deeply for the vulnerable young people and families we work with. There is another powerful voice that‘s ready to be heard – the voice of those young people and families. Hull has always valued their opinion but is now officially shining a spotlight their way and handing them a microphone.

Two Hull staff, Virginia Hervey, Program Director and Dr. Emily Wang, Senior Director, Clinical Advancement & Trauma Informed Services, were in New York a few years ago for a conference put on by the Building Bridges Initiative and were inspired by the impactful work they are doing with sharing leadership and responsibility with the people they work with. Conversations of implementing this kind of work were already happening with our Executive Director, Julie Kerr, and the Hull’s Voices of Lived Experience – Child, Youth and Family Advisory Council (Hull’s Voices) officially gained momentum.

Hull’s Voices was officially launched in 2019 and is made up of eight members. Christina Sackett, chair of Hull’s Voices, Virginia Hervey, as staff liaison, and six other lived-experience council members.

Hull’s Voices listens to the lived-experiences of the young people and families who have received services from Hull and takes their experiences to advise us in developing and implementing a strong family-centered care approach across all programs. Family-centered care approach recognizes that each family is unique and that the family is the constant in the child’s life. They are experts on their abilities and needs and should be involved in every aspect of care.

Christina has touched many lives at Hull and her journey is one of the reasons she was asked to chair Hull’s Voices. She makes a powerful leader having been on both sides of the Agency; a vulnerable parent receiving services, and a professional working with us.

Christina’s teenage son, Myles was a kind-hearted, intelligent young man who struggled with mental health and addiction. He spent the last year of his life in programs for mental health and addictions at Hull – but he tragically lost his battle to addictions in 2014.

(Photo left is of advisory council members Christina Sackett, Gillian Calderon Dominguez, Virginia Hervey, and Emilee Friesen)

“Our experience when I first came to Hull was a breath of fresh air,” Christina recounts. “I felt like, finally, we found where he needed to be. And finally, I had professionals willing to help me and talk to me as a family member and support me and everything we were going through – which didn’t exist in other programs that we had accessed. I was pretty much left on my own to deal with him.”

Though Christina feels they were finally able to access the services that were right for Myles, she does see opportunity for growth. She was thrilled to join us in this journey to grow this partnership with the families we work with.

“She is such an inspiration to me in my career,” remarks Virginia. “I can’t think of anyone that I’ve learned more from than Christina with her vision and her grace, in wanting to be part of supporting us to be better.”

Christina’s voice is one of many who are eager to guide Hull through this journey.

Gillian Calderon Dominguez is another lived-experienced council member and has also been a member since the beginning. She accessed two programs at Hull for her two young nephews. When asked to be a council member, she was ready to share her story, and use her experiences to help other families like her.

“I certainly felt like I could provide feedback on some of the things that I wish were different in my experiences,” says Gillian, regarding her inspiration for joining Hull’s Voices. “But I’m also very grateful for all Hull has done for my family and in the end, I got my voice.”

Christina and Gillian bring that important parent voice to Hull’s Voices, but there is another lived-experience perspective that will add a lot of value to what is being said and done. The voice of a youth who has received services.

Emilee Friesen received services for a number of years and her counselor approached her in regards to joining the committee. She believes her experiences add a new lens to the discussion.

“A lot of the committee members are parents, so to be the person who has gone through a program myself is pretty cool to bring with me,” says Emilee.

Emilee’s reasons for joining Hull’s Voices stem from deeply personal reasons – she knows how many young people are struggling with limited community support.

“I got into a program before I was 24, but if I had been left to my own devices now, and had to look for help, like I have been trying to help my sister and friends look for help, there would be almost nothing for me like there is almost nothing for them,” said Emilee.

Emilee’s main hope as a committee member is that her voice will be one that helps develop more programs for young adults like her, but she’s ready to step up and help in any way she can.

So far, through collaboration between Hull’s Voices, young people and families who have received services, the Agency’s senior management team, the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF) accreditation report, and other areas within the Agency, recommendations have been developed and presented to programs. The next step is for programs to review the recommendations and start the process of implementing change where it’s needed.

“We’re still in the early stages of the programs being totally involved, but I would say what it’s done for Hull is its helped bridge that gap between the staff and the families,” says Christina.

Hull and Hull’s Voices council members are breaking down the barrier that separates families from professionals so they can collectively work together.

“The professionals aren’t here to tell us what to do, but rather work with us to figure out what would be best for the situation,” says Christina. “Hull is really taking the opportunity to learn from us and take that learning into their practice and into their programs.”

The first short-term goal Hull’s Voices set out for all programs to achieve is consistent, understandable language. A common theme all lived-experience families expressed was their difficulty in understanding some of the language Hull uses.

For example, a term Hull has used in the past to refer to young people and families is “person served”, which does not resonate well with the young people and families receiving services.

“I would say the term “person served” was pretty universal in the committee for being a term that didn’t sit well,” says Gillian. “For example, my oldest nephew was served at school, like he was actually served documents. So for us, when we hear “served,” it’s something that’s not very nice to hear.”

These families want to be referred to as exactly what they are, “children, youth and families”. And in a professional setting, they are okay with being referred to as “clients”.

“It was a really good lesson for me around the importance of language and the opportunities for us to examine the power differential, wherever we can,” says Virginia. “And so that was just one concrete example of the purpose and function of Hull’s Voices and their ability to use their voices to steer us in a better direction.”

Hull’s Voices helps beyond just the practical and literal way of advising on all aspects of service delivery. We’ve moved beyond saying that we value the voices of the people we work with, to operationalizing and living that we value the voices of the people we work with.

Virginia has been so proud watching Hull’s Voices come to life and is eager to see positive changes take form in upcoming years. But Virginia and our Agency’s real hope is that Hull’s Voices future isn’t an anomaly.

“My hope, and my vision is that it remains something that is so interwoven into all aspects of Agency functions, that there will be a time when people don’t remember that we didn’t have an advisory council,” said Virginia.

Setting the stage for the young people and families we work with to echo their voice throughout the Agency is a journey we’re excited to embark upon.