Today, I am delighted to offer you an interview with Tanea Fortin, a Certified Child and Youth Counsellor and professor in the Child and Youth Worker program at St Lawrence College in Kingston, Ontario. Tanea has a wealth of experience working with children and youth, and is no newcomer to Compassion Fatigue education – she attended one of the very first workshops that Robin Cameron and I offered over a decade ago. Since then, Tanea has integrated concepts of self care into all of her teaching. I have had the pleasure of visiting Tanea’s class about once a year to meet her students and answer questions. When the Compassion Fatigue Workbook was published last year, Tanea decided to select it as one of her textbooks for the placement course. I wanted Tanea to have the opportunity to share with other instructors what she has found useful. Tanea also generously offered to share two of her handouts with us. They are included as downloadable documents in the body of the text.
Tanea: I have a passion for making a difference in the lives of children, youth and families and have been practicing in the field of Child and Youth Care since 1993 after receiving my Child and Youth Worker diploma from Cambrian College in Sudbury, and later completing my B.A in Child and Youth Care at Ryerson University. My experience includes a wide range of practical experience in coordinating programs, community education, counselling, advocacy, skills training and program development for youth and families within residential and community settings, targeting issues of homelessness, mental health, trauma, addictions, youth justice, abuse, and issues affecting immigrant and refugees. After supervising field placement students for ten years, I joined the CYW faculty team part-time in 2006 to 2009. The role and responsibilities to teach a number of core courses and develop field placement opportunities, aligned with my professional goals and sincere passion to invest in future Child and Youth Workers. In January 2012, I was delighted to return to the program as a full-time faculty member. As an advocate for high quality service to children and youth, I maintain my membership with the Ontario Association of Child and Youth Counsellors (OACYC) and actively participate within the community as a volunteer, educator and committee member for various youth issues and strategic planning tables.
Q: What is the course that you teach and how did you start using the Compassion Fatigue workbook in the class?
Tanea: The CYW students are required to complete 1200 hours of community field placement 3 days a week. This experience is supported through on-site field placement visits as well as weekly seminar classes where we explore the various issues that arise in the field setting. It is during these classes that we have introduced the Compassion Fatigue Workbook. It was determined that although the students were new in the field, they were able to recognize signs of compassion fatigue in colleagues and were invested in taking a preventative approach for themselves as helpers. As an educator, it is my responsibility to prepare the students and introduce them to resources, language and strategies to be able to effectively practice while engaging with the young people they support who are experiencing social, emotional and behavioural challenges.
Q: How do you use the workbook in class? Can you be as detailed as possible as this may be really useful to other instructors
Tanea: The Compassion Fatigue workbook is first introduced in the fall semester of 3rd year and will be utilized in both semesters.
Review compassion fatigue as they covered CF & Vicarious Trauma in 2nd year
Introduce the workbook and the personal impact these type of exercises have had on extending my CYW career
Homework assignment, read chapter 2 and respond to activity sheet 3-2-1
Our seminar groups are designed to sit in a large circle to create safe, open dialogue
Students are encouraged to share the results of their worksheet at which point we explore points raised
It has been my experience that students become very fearful and scared of the impact of Compassion Fatigue
Review coping strategies and resiliency factors they possess (encourage them to review chapter 14: “Developing Compassion Fatigue resiliency”)
Chapter 5: “Low-Impact Debriefing: How to Stop sliming each other”
The small group seminar is designed to allow students to share field placement experiences, therefore this chapter was critical.
Students were required to read the chapter before class
In small groups of 4, students are ask to compete the Listing to Learn worksheet
The results are then shared with the larger group to identify topics or concerns
Read Chapter 7: How is the “job” impacting you. The chapter is reviewed in class and discussion questions are presented to generate dialogue and increased self-awareness.
Then in pairs, students share personal experiences/ observations they are having at field placement
Chapter 13: “Self-Care”
In the first year, the students completed a course on Self-Care. We review the self-care inventory and reassess there previously identified strategies to evaluate effectiveness and build on their existing coping skills.
Review Assignment: Create a new self-care card based on the outcome (time to work on the ideas in class and engage in discussion around the topic)
Self care card: warning signs on the back, affirmations and list of strategies/tools on the front that are preventative and support the promotion of good self-care.
Q: What has the response been by students to the Compassion Fatigue workbook?
Tanea: Students are thrilled with the workbook, for a number of reasons:
Cost: students are purchasing the book due to reasonable cost
Easy to read: large print, clear layout and effective language
The material is engaging and has a sense of authenticity
Students have reported reading beyond the assigned chapters, which is unheard of.
Q: You recently invited me to come and meet the students which was wonderful. What were some of the main questions the students had?
Tanea: Overall, the student appreciated your open, honest dialogue and your ability to relate to the field in which they are entering. Some of their questions included:
Are there ways to word the disclosure to make it less impactful to others?
How do you deal with hearing sliming when you really want no part of it?
What experience lead you to term “sliming”?
If, when you are debriefing and are withholding details, are you really making yourself feel better because it is the details that bother you?
Why do you feel compassion fatigue is important in the Child and Youth Worker field?
How do you understand individual boundaries and how can you tell when you are sliming someone?
Often I feel as one deals with more and more crisis situation, they may become desensitized to trauma and therefore their threshold of dealing with trauma may be different than people who do not deal with trauma. So, how do you learn or gauge others peoples ability to handle hearing about trauma? I.e. How do I choose the right person to debrief to?
Q: Is there anything else you would like to share with other instructors, that may help them in designing their own classes for students?
For me, it is key that this work happen within small groups as it is essential to have a strong rapport with the students and be able to reinforce a safe learning environment.
Françoise: Thank you so much Tanea, I know that many people out there will greatly appreciate you taking the time to share your experience and your handouts. If you are an instructor working in the CYW field, Tanea has indicated that she would be very happy to answer any of your questions by email. Please contact me and I will put you in touch.
Now it’s your turn:
Are you an instructor working at the college or university level with students in a helping profession? Are you integrating Compassion Fatigue strategies in your teaching? If so, please get in touch and share your top strategies with us. Let’s not reinvent the wheel – let us create a community of learning.