Saving children in need: Ometz and Batshaw Centres work together

“I was living with my uncle. We didn’t function properly in that situation as a family. He would leave me at home and go away all day. When they saw it was too violent, they made a decision – the workers and the school, a lot of them – to go into a foster home,” describes Fanny, now a young woman.

Fanny came to Canada at nine years old with the help of Jewish Immigrant Aid Services (now Ometz). Her parents had been granted immigration to Israel, but due to family circumstances, Fanny instead had to come to Canada to live with her uncle. Mandated by the government to be responsible for youth protection, adoption and young offenders across Montreal means that the Batshaw Youth and Family Centres deal with children in need, like Fanny.

“When I came here to Canada, I remember it was not working so well with my uncle. Batshaw Centres supported me and they wanted to make sure I went to school. I had a worker; she was very good, very supportive. She helped me move away from him.”

When these children are Jewish, Batshaw Centres often works together with Ometz to ensure that the most pressing needs of the child are met and that their best interest is put first.

“There is a growing partnership between the public and private sectors to ensure that children maintain their connections to the community. It is a very important aspect of their well-being to have stability with respect to neighbourhood, culture, language and school of the child,” said Susan Karpman, Director of Community Services & Immigration at Ometz. “We have the resources in our community to find and ensure these connections continue and to maintain as much consistency as possible.”

Batshaw Centres services approximately 1500 children and youths at any given time. Approximately 40-50 of these children are Jewish and about one-third of those live outside of their parents’ care, either with extended family, with foster parents or in a group home or rehabilitation centre. This could happen under circumstances of serious neglect or abuse, severe family conflict, abandonment or dangerous behaviour issues.

“One of the main ways we work together is that Ometz is able to work within the community to help find Jewish foster homes for Jewish children. We also work with Batshaw Centres to ensure that there is flexibility and special arrangements available in their group homes for Jewish children, such as providing Kosher food.  Our school workers also work to ensure the children are well supported in the school environment,” said Karpman.

“My worker helped me stay in one place because she said I was changing places too much. I did stay longer and I came to the Y and I went to the synagogue. I used to go to Camp B’nai Brith. We celebrated Passover. We put the candles for Chanukah. I know that I am Jewish,” Fanny said, noting that the community even helped her go to Israel when she was a teenager to meet her family. “Before I didn’t know that they had all these resources. Now, with my kids, we go to Chanukah parties, we keep up. We do go to synagogue for the holidays. It’s important to know where you are coming from and what you believe in.”

While the roles of both agencies are different, with Ometz providing community services and Batshaw Centres maintaining the youth protection mandate, both agencies provide critical support to families in need. Batshaw Centres’ responsibility is to identify anyone under 18 years old at risk, to determine why they are at risk and to map out a solution; and Ometz offers community services and resources to help those individuals and families.

“Both Batshaw Centres and Ometz interveners work together in the clinical planning of the child with a primary focus on the best needs of the child,” said Elliot Zelniker, Program Manager from the AM Cavendish Team of the Batshaw Youth and Family Centres.

“Sometimes Ometz works with a family and then youth protection (Batshaw Centres) gets involved so there is collaboration. At other times, youth protection is involved with a family, but Ometz’s services are sought to further assist the family. Interventions are typically geared towards helping parents achieve their fullest potential so that they could raise their children effectively,” he said.

“Batshaw Centres has the legal mandate to enforce an intervention plan and make sure families follow through.  Ometz may be the appropriate agency to provide some of those services. These can include things like family counselling, play therapy, budgetary assistance, volunteer mentors, et cetera. We also sometimes share the costs of resources for certain therapies, day care or even  sending kids to camp,” Karpman said.

“They helped keep me within the community. They understand me. The community is very important – it’s very important to have a community that you can trust, someone who supports you,” Fanny said. “There are a lot of different kinds of communities, but it’s not the same thing as when you come to your own people, and to see, share in it what you believe and what you don’t believe.”

Batshaw Youth and Family Centres provides youth protection, adoption and Youth Criminal Justice Act services to English-speaking families who reside on the island of Montreal and to all Jewish clients in Montreal, regardless of language.

Ometz delivers social services to families and individuals, especially during times of vulnerability, provides training and employment services to jobseekers and employers, and assists families and newcomers here and abroad throughout their sponsorship, immigration and integration process.

Federation CJA recently made a donation to support the Batshaw Youth and Family Centres’ Toy Fund, which provides 540 toys to children of various ages for the holiday season, including to Jewish children for Chanukah.

Federation CJA allocated $4,412,000 to Agence Ometz (includes poverty relief fund).

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