Foster children find a safe space at Grey Nuns Hospital

Every morning, Mary receives a text message reminding her to take her medication for depression and anxiety.

The 8:30 a.m. message comes from her social worker Chantelle Leclair, an arrangement the two have had in place for more than a month. Chantelle, a mother of two, is one of Mary’s closest healthcare allies—not at all unusual for a child who has been in foster care.

“For some of those kids, we are the longest-standing relationship they’ve had—which is significant,” says Chantelle.

“They’ve had multiple placements and caregivers; they have moved schools, they’ve been in and out of other systems. And they don’t always maintain a connection to their biological family.”

Mary is among a group of teens and young adults who continue to have their physical, mental and psychological needs met by the Foster Care Clinic at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital.

Founded by pediatrician Dr. Tami Masterson in 2011, this one-of-a-kind clinic, which provides trauma-informed care to children predominantly involved in the foster care system, needs to be flexible to meet the complex needs of its patients.  

The clinic team has an active patient load of more than 2,000 children and youth. Their trauma-informed mandate means they serve a very specific population that includes high-risk teens who are dealing with homelessness, substance misuse, justice involvement and violence, as well as children like Mary who struggle with mental illness. 

The clinic’s open-door policy means all are welcome, without any judgment, regardless of where they are at when they come through the doors.

“The children we serve have experienced extensive intergenerational, in utero and early childhood trauma; their needs are higher, navigating the world is a lot more challenging. So when they come to us, we consider that a big win in itself. 

"The concern is that without a clinic like ours, they don’t have any other workable options and are left underserved,” says Chantelle.

Tami acknowledges that at times their work is “very challenging.” So she is thrilled that the clinic has recently been approved for funding to hire a new Nurse Practitioner, as part of a $3-million government investment to make health care more accessible to underserved communities and populations like foster children.

The clinic got another financial boost when the Covenant Foundation received $50,000 from the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation in October.

Tami says the funds are essential to continue their work and support families in meeting their basic needs. 

And it’s a safe place to build strong connections, says Chantelle, who values the bond she and Mary share.

“I am really invested in how this young lady does; my goal is to help Mary increase her network of positive, healthy connections to ensure she has a broad base of support that extends beyond the clinic. This will help her be successful well beyond her time as a patient here.”

And that’s an approach for all those who come to the clinic, says Chantelle. “It’s about how can we help them today and move them towards what would be a healthier choice in wherever they want to go along in their journey.” 

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