Gabrielle’s love for Nunavik is no recent story. This social worker’s path to her dream job and preferred lifestyle was a step-by-step process. Learn about her passion in this interview.
Gabrielle, your first job in the North was as a nanny?
Yes! My beginnings in the North are somewhat unusual. In 2016, I began working as nanny for an adorable family; the parents are both employees of youth protection of the Inuulitsivik Health Centre (IHC). I often heard them talking about their work, and I found it inspiring!
I was a nanny for two and a half years. At the same time, I was completing my studies by correspondence. With diploma in hand, I was torn between leaving this family and starting my career. But I went ahead. I therefore started part time as external educator and I haven’t left the North since. I’m now a specialist in clinical activities.
I have to say I’ve fallen totally in love with the North. The landscapes, climate, rhythm of life, population, culture, etc. I don’t feel like ever leaving this place.
What does a specialist in clinical activities do?
As specialist in clinical activities, I provide field support for interveners and train new ones. We assess the child’s and family’s situation to find the best intervention possible, culturally adapted, to respond to the child’s needs. We find solutions. We need to be creative in order to compensate for the crying lack of resources in Nunavik.
Between our daily tasks, the unexpected and emergencies, no two days are ever alike or without challenges. It’s very stimulating and gratifying work.
What is a typical day like?
One thing is certain, here we’re never bored! A typical day is filled with unexpected developments, meetings with our clients, notes, laughing, singing (yes, we sometimes sing in the vehicle on our way to see a client or going from one office to another for a meeting ). There are moments charged with positive emotions and sometimes more difficult moments. We create strong ties with our clients and their families, with our work colleagues, and together we get through what each day brings.
How would you describe the situations you encounter in youth protection in Nunavik?
We deal with all sorts of situations. The families we work with face challenges and are going through difficult times. Whether in Nunavik, Québec City or Saint-Alphonse, the DYP assumes a role of protection for the children under its responsibility, who generally come from families dealing with challenges. This can lead to a multitude of different situations. In general, once they get to know you and trust you, the people we work with are welcoming, honest, sensitive, strong, accepting and warm, and they like to laugh.
There are situations where we meet with a child, his parents, the entire extended family. There are interventions in emergency situations required to ensure a child’s safety. We accompany clients to all sorts of appointments, we visit them at home or meet them in our offices. Right until the file is closed!
As our intervention is very intrusive in people’s family lives, emotions often run high. And understandably, as a child or her parents as well as the extended family can sometimes be very open to cooperation and appreciative of our services, just as sometimes they can be very frustrated or fearful and so forth. One thing is sure, the bonds that form during the course of intervention and follow-up are solid. Some families can even be disappointed when we tell them that their file will be closed.
Is the work always very busy?
I’d say it comes in waves. There are quieter weeks when we barely do any overtime and others when we feel overwhelmed.
We spend our free time camping in the tundra, organizing dinners with friends, playing board games in the evenings, sitting around campfires, going out four-wheeling or snowmobiling. Personally, I enjoy visiting what we call “Canadian Tire,” the town dump. There I look for wood, parts for recreational vehicles and plenty of other little treasures that are still in good shape. With the wood or salvaged parts, in my free time I like building wooden furniture or repairing my snowmobile.
What do you have to say about your colleagues, or the support you receive on site?
I work with people with hearts of gold! And our strength is our teamwork. We are a very close-knit team: we have fun together, other times we pull up our sleeves and share the efforts. Our service heads provide us with much support; trust and respect are the basis for our professional relations.
Tell me a story or a particular moment you experienced at work.
I’ll always remember the time when we had to intervene with several siblings. We had to spend a few nights in the office with the children because we didn’t have a foster family for them. One of the children was excessively fearful and suspicious, we couldn’t even look at him without him shaking his head no, crying, screaming and going off to hide. We had an even harder time approaching him. He refused to eat or remove his coat. At one point he tripped and hurt himself. We couldn’t even get close to him because he was too fearful and would flee from us. So I began playing with one of his older sisters. We would run around a partition that separated the kitchen from the living room. I noticed that the girl copied each of my movements. A few minutes later, the other child began following his sister, who was following me. So I added to the game: a few obstacles to get over and a spot with food. Each time I went past, I would take a mouthful. In turn, the older sister and the child in question would do the same. This game continued for some time, until it was time to go to bed. So that set me wondering, all that fear in the little child’s eyes, his mistrust, as if the multiple traumatizing events he’d experienced had stolen away his childhood. I was happy that at least everyone had finally eaten and that they had had a little bit of fun in spite of the circumstances. Today, three years later, this child is stable and his eyes have regained a spark. He says hello to me each time we see one another and I’m even treated to a sincere and spontaneous hug! It still surprises me today.
Do you feel you’re making a real difference?
I believe the story above best answers that question.
I truly believe we’re making a difference. There are times when we pour ourselves body and soul into our work and don’t get the hoped-for results. Then there are all the other times when our intervention has an impact and yet we’ll never know.
With time, we also understand that we aren’t here to save anyone. Our work aims to protect, safeguard, end the child’s present situation of compromise. We’re here to support, provide resources, accompany, sometimes teach, but it is just as important to respect our clients’ pace, accept them for who they are along with their present situation, all without judging, with benevolence.
So, this difference has what impact, what extent? It’s up to the clients to judge. “Making a difference” doesn’t always go as we would have liked at the beginning of our career. But we’ll never be the ones who will make the biggest difference in the lives of the children we meet. It’s their parents and their families.
For you, what are the advantages of working in the North?
The list is long. One advantage is quick and easy access to the outdoors, with the fauna and flora so different from what we’re used to. Another is the discovery of such a rich, amazing and lively culture. The different pace of life. Creating new friends who, over time, become your northern family. Sharing knowledge, values and morals. Winter as it should be, with plenty of snow, long summer nights when the sun doesn’t quite go down, the transparency and honesty of the people here, the simplicity of things, the human contact that is still very present. Here, like when we were children, people don’t have a cell network, conversations go on around the table. You don’t always call before visiting a friend. You arrive and you enter, it’s that simple.
Are you satisfied with your choice of job?
Satisfied is a euphemism. I can’t imagine myself being anywhere other than here.