Every child deserves love, support, relationships, and fun, no matter how they behave or where they come from. Justin Ducharme, 31, is one person who believes this wholeheartedly, doing whatever he can to positively influence a child’s life.
The children who live in New Directions’ Community Homes often come from troubling backgrounds, with caregivers who couldn’t care for them properly and in some cases, children who have experienced trauma and/or abuse. It’s this kind of troubling past at a young age that can cause kids to act out and behave badly. It’s these children who need love and supports the most.
Justin Ducharme started as a volunteer in Community Homes over 10 years ago and loved the variety that each day brought as well as the fun and connection that came with taking care of children. After finishing Applied Counselling at Red River College, Justin started as a casual support worker and has worked his way up to Home Supervisor after 13 years. Justin says that his secret to staying motivated in this role is his connections and relationships with the kids themselves.
“You do what you can to be a light in a kid’s life, which is rewarding in itself,” says Justin, adding that his favourite thing about working in Community Homes is the impact you can make in a child’s life, big or small.
Justin connects with the kids in his home by being adaptable, vocal, and an advocate for them. He helps them do what they want in terms of activities, outings, and having fun. He adapts to their changing moods, wants, and needs and helps them navigate their feelings and emotions. He helps them achieve goals of all sizes including graduating high school, finding a steady job, washing their hands regularly or teaching them how to fry an egg or use a can opener. Each goal is specific to each child depending on where they’re at. Justin takes a hands-on approach to help them achieve their goals whether it means helping with homework, waiting outside the bathroom door to check if they’ve washed their hands, or physically showing them how to fry an egg or use a can opener.
His relationship with each kid is like the one you might have with an older sibling, uncle, or parent. The kids like to give Justin a hard time, teasing him about silly things like his clothes or hair. This playfulness is important to build and maintain his bond with them, but he also works hard to maintain a healthy balance, holding the children accountable for mistakes in a loving, respectful way which helps the kids to make positive changes.
“Making strong connections with the kids is so important, they just need somebody to lean on,” says Justin.
One of the difficulties of Community Homes is that the children have several rotating staff, making it difficult for the children to form lasting bonds, having to get to know and feel safe with each different staff caregiver. As a home supervisor, Justin addresses these challenges by creating a tight-knit group of staff in the home, making sure to have as many familiar faces as possible, relying on staff feedback and needs to make it the best possible living arrangement for the kids. He always puts the kids first and, in this case, the staff they have around is so important because “kids feed off the staff dynamics so it’s super important to have the right people working.” The staff starts out as casual workers in the homes but if they aren’t meeting the appropriate standards, they don’t get invited back by Justin, all to protect and enhance the children’s experience.
Justin acknowledges the scary or uncomfortable nature for a child to come live in this setting with a whole new home system. Justin tells kids who start out at the home to “take your time, you don’t have to be best friends with anyone right away, we’re here for you.” He always takes a step back at first, giving them space to feel comfortable and encourages them that there are no wrong questions to ask. It’s also hopeful for the kids to know that at New Directions, we try to get kids back to their families when we can. We want to help foster positive, caring relationships with their family.
The harsh realities for these kids can mean continued behaviour problems, or sometimes ending up in jail or homeless after they leave our care. Justin deals with these challenges by celebrating small changes and successes in this field and knows not to take it personally when they act out or have problems after they leave the home. Justin values this humbling job as a chance to learn more about himself, the kids, and the inspiring diversity of Manitoba children.
Community Homes is always looking for casual workers to help make a difference in these children’s life, apply today if some of your best qualities are being respectful, patient and open-minded.