The Natural Helpers for the Children Learning Circle (Natural Helpers) is an innovative program developed through a partnership between Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN), Child and Youth Milopemahtesewin Services (CYMS) in Moosonee/Moose Factory, ON, and Infant and Early Mental Health Promotion (IEMHP). In this project, local Indigenous leaders worked with non-Indigenous infant and early mental health experts in the creation of a unique community-based approach to better supporting young children and their families.
The goal of Natural Helpers is to build community capacity to positively influence prenatal, infant and early mental health. This is achieved through a series of facilitated conversations with engaged community members who share a common interest in better supporting local families with young children. The initiative acknowledges that the community as a whole plays an important role in supporting little ones, and that every individual has something valuable to contribute to their community and future generations. The program builds upon local strengths and capacity, recognizing how the traditional culture and ways of being and knowing are essential to the health and wellbeing of young children and their families.
This multi-part learning circle is designed with a broad audience in mind to include parents, caregivers, extended family, professionals, students, and any other interested community members. The modules are co-delivered by Indigenous community leaders and non-Indigenous IEMH experts. The pilot, which consisted of 12 Moosonee & Moose Factory participants, was made up of 8 modules as presented in the image above.
Pilot (Oct-Dec 2022) participants took part in their own unique learning journey as they viewed videos and other resources related to infant and early mental health. They then engaged in weekly discussion sessions facilitated by content experts, community members and an Elder. Participants had the opportunity to watch, listen, learn, share, and reflect throughout the duration of the program. They often related the discussions to their own personal experiences and, therefore, many topics resonated very deeply with them. The majority of participants expressed the desire for the learning circle to continue. The most powerful aspects noted were: (1) the opportunity to share and learn from each other in a safe space, and (2) the reported immediate and meaningful impact the project had on participants and their interactions with children.
Time for reflection was an important component of the program. Natural Helpers participants were given locally sourced watercolour paint kits and, following each session, were encouraged to take time to create while reflecting on what they had learned and experienced. This element of the pilot was a big success as it provided a beautiful vehicle for participants to reflect and extend their learning.
To learn more about the Natural Helpers 2022 Pilot, see the report here: