Youth Connect – Montreal MFRC
Imagine being a teen and learning that your family is moving across the country for a new armed forces posting. Again.
Imagine how tense and sad you’d feel leaving your home, your friends, your favourite places to hang out. Imagine your anxiety as you start over at a new school. Again.
Imagine not seeing your serving parent for weeks or months at a time, and coping with the fear that they might get injured while they’re away – or not come back at all.
Now imagine keeping all those feelings to yourself.
That’s a heavy burden on a child’s mental health, and it can be the reality for some 64,000 Canadian children under 18 who have a military parent. In fact, children from military families experience twice the rate of mental health issues compared to children from civilian families, with 4 in 10 school-age children reporting feelings of hopelessness.
With potential moves always on the horizon, teens may be reluctant to invest in building relationships with others and having to rebuild their connections over again with each move. Research indicates that the loss of this network and the difficulties in creating bonds of belonging drastically affect the educational success of these young adults.
That’s a challenge that the Montreal Region Military Family Resource Centre (MFRC) is determined to tackle by creating a safe space for youth that fits on a phone, laptop or tablet: Youth Connect | Clic jeunesse.
Montreal Region MFRC is one of 32 MFRCs across Canada that provide military families with access to resources like daycare, employment services, mental health supports, relocation and deployment assistance and more. This network of centres is at the heart of Youth Connect | Clic jeunesse, and the collaboration between MFRCs has been crucial to the development of the platform and to its goal of connecting youth across Canada.
By providing the broader MFRC network with access to this platform, the goal of Youth Connect | Clic jeunesse is to empower youth from military families across Canada to meet and cultivate friendships while also providing them supervised online access to programs, tools, and resources that support mental health, and help them cope with the daily challenges of military life.
While MFRCs can be described as the heart of a military community, the size of community itself can become a barrier to uprooted youth seeking new friends in a new environment or access to mental health supports.
“Many MFRC territories are large – for example, in the Montreal Region MFRC territory, we serve an area that would take seven hours to drive. It can be a disadvantage for youth who do not live close to the service points,” said Noémi Trépanier, Childhood and Youth Coordinator at Montreal Region MFRC. “Virtual youth services are a way to ensure equity in the youth mental health supports we can offer.”
Youth Connect is made up of two distinct sections: a common section for all participating MFRCs and a section for each individual MFRC. Once participants are inside the Youth Connect virtual hub, teens will be able to chat and write to each other in a common area, and the MFRC can set up an activity open to all or reserved for the young people in its region in its own reserved space.
Staying connected though far apart
This dual set-up will help maintain connections despite frequent relocations and can also assist youth who are looking to integrate into the other host communities. Youth Connect | Clic jeunesse is also a bilingual platform so youth from a French-speaking family in an English-speaking community (and vice versa) can make connections and access service in their own language. Real-world connections can also be planned by the local MFRC.
“All of our activities are planned to integrate each youth and keep them in contact with their friends across the country,” said Trépanier, who notes that the platform also helps remove barriers to seeking help. “A young person may be shy and reluctant to pick up the phone to communicate with a worker or come to the centre in person. On the platform, they can access mental health services and resources to help them in crisis situations.”
Thanks to the support of the Bell True Patriot Love Fund, and generous donors like you, Montreal Region MFRC has been able to develop and pilot the Youth Connect | Clic jeunesse platform and expand it to 17 MFRCs across Canada – that represents some 56% of all military children. Thank you for helping nurture and support kids from coast to coast!