As leaders in the campaign to end violence against women and children, Interval House is always looking for the best ways to address the diverse needs of the women and children we serve. We continue to provide innovative services to empower survivors of family violence to transform their lives and break the cycle of abuse.
One way in which we provide the children of Interval House with the best possible support in their recovery, is by enlisting female and male facilitators. We were the first shelter for abused women and children in the GTA to incorporate a male facilitator into our Children’s Program. Fred is that Children’s Recreation Facilitator. We would like to introduce you to him and give you a better understanding of our Children’s Program.
Fred was on the road to becoming a software engineer when he started volunteering for Big Brothers Big Sisters Canada. The fulfillment he got out of working with children through his volunteer experience and as a soccer coach led Fred in a new direction. He decided to pursue a diploma in Child and Youth Care from Humber College. Paired with a certificate in Mindfulness training, Fred was ready to dive into the field and help young people find emotional stability in difficult times. Lucky for us, Fred came to Interval House.
It is always a fun time when Fred shows up. You can see the excitement on all the kids’ faces; Fred is a Rock Star around here. He has been a familiar face at Interval House since 2008, coming in to spend time with the families twice a week. On Thursdays, he co-facilitates the Children’s Group alongside Elizabeth, one of Interval House’s Child & Youth Counsellor/Advocates. On the weekends, mothers join in the fun, spending quality time exploring the city and finding affordable and accessible activities for themselves and their children to enjoy. They are starting new traditions, making new memories, and beginning new lives — lives free from violence.
Our philosophy is to use play-based and unstructured forms of counselling with the children that stay with us. Fred explains that conventional therapy requires a lot of trust and to be effective it needs to be conducted over a long period of time. Children can be especially apprehensive to share their experiences of trauma in a conventional therapy setting. Since the average stay for a family at Interval House is 3 months, there is not enough time for conventional therapy to be an effective course of action.
It is much easier to get a response from children through play. Sometimes the activities directly address certain issues and themes. For example, the Children’s Program room has some pet fish that the children care for. This teaches them about caring for another living thing. The children have to show empathy and understand what is required to care for the fish. Do the fish need more food? Is the tank clean? Should we get some snails so they have more friends? Considering these things inspires the kids to show care and concern for the fish and that will extend into their other interactions.
Other times, play can be something tactile for the child to do. It takes away from the gravity of the conversation they may be having with a counsellor about violence they witnessed or experienced before coming to Interval House. Play is essential to creating a comfortable and supportive environment where children can heal and learn to be kids again.
Another important aspect to Fred’s role here is to demonstrate positive male-female relationships. Children who have grown up in an environment where one adult exercises total control, domination, and disrespect towards another often do not understand that this type of relationship is unhealthy and wrong. Fred describes one situation where he asked a mother if she would hold his jacket for a moment. Before she responded, her child interrupted to say that of course she would and Fred could’ve just handed her his coat in the first place without asking for her consent. Fred then explained to the child that when he wants a favour from someone else, he should always ask permission. He also explained that the mother always has the right to say no. Interactions like these help Fred model respectful, caring behaviour and change children’s understanding of how people should treat one another. To counter relationships where a male figure is dominating a female figure, which is what most of the kids at Interval House have seen, Fred shows examples of equal relationships based on mutual respect.
Fred explains that this job, despite the circumstances, is largely a whole lot of fun and often doesn’t feel like work. He gets to play with awesome kids and help them express themselves in safe and creative ways. He gets to share in their new experiences of healthy interactions and communication with others. And he gets to watch, as they and their mothers are empowered to rebuild their family life free from violence and abuse.