20 April 2020

How children inspired me to turn a 3-year volunteer position into 30 years of giving.

In the depths of winter in 1989, I was outside with my 4 and 5-year-old daughters playing in the snow with some of the neighbourhood kids, when I was approached by the mother of one of them. She asked if I would be interested in a part time position working with children and youth who resided in group homes. She said “You are like the neighbourhood mom to all these kids, I think you would be great at it!”

She then proceeded to explain the details of the position. This position was known as the Citizen Chair representative of the Residence Placement Advisory Committee (RPAC) of Toronto. After hearing about the role, I was very interested and applied to the coordinator of the RPAC at that time. I attended a thorough interview and was notified a few days later that I was accepted. An RPAC committee operates across the province as mandated by the Children, Youth & Family Services Act. Each province has individual RPAC committees in various regions with the goal of being a children’s safeguard system. Children in Toronto have the right to have their residential placement reviewed while in foster care or in a group home program. Youth get meetings to review placements every 9 months.

 My role as Citizen Chair was to be like the “neighbourhood mom” on the committee of three when speaking with the children and youth who were residing in group homes. I would ask questions such as, “How is your room?”, “Have you made friends?”, “How is the food?”, etc. The other members of the committee were knowledgeable of policies and the rules and regulations of group homes and they would ask questions pertaining to that. After the meeting concluded, it was my responsibility to gather all information from the committee and then compose a letter regarding our recommendation about the placement for that child or youth, whether it was appropriate or not to meet their needs. Over the course of 30 years, I have been a part of hundreds of meetings and supported over 500 youth, many of whom come back to support youth that are in the shoes they once walked in.

One specific residence is for kids who have experienced significant trauma physically, sexually and psychologically. One of the youth started sending me drawings and I could see the changes in that youth from the pictures being sent over time. They went from being extremely dark to beautiful, bright, sunny stories. This youth graduated from high school, became a social worker and ended up working in the same field as the folks who once helped her.

I came from a family where my mother was very involved and interested in the well-being of children. She instilled in me that we had to be caring and understanding of children’s rights. She always said that it was ironic that folks needed a license to marry but not to have children. RPAC gave me the chance to volunteer and to make it my mission to represent children in a positive way.

I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with the youth, their families and those responsible for working with them in the group homes. It was a challenge at times to have youth commit to treatment especially upon their arrival, but when I spoke with them after a few months, they were very pleased to tell me how well they were doing and the gains they had made. I am honoured to have held this position for 30 years, as originally back in 1989; the contract was for only 3 years.

Over the years that I worked at the Farm program, I got to know Trish and looked forward to the times that I had to give the RPAC updates so that I had an excuse to connect with Trish. I always knew when we discussed the youth, Trish would have an empathetic, caring compassionate ear, both about the youth and their journeys, and about the efforts and work that our program put forth to provide the best possible care.  The youth looked forward to talking to Trish, because even in their brief contacts with her, they knew that she was a kind and caring person they could be honest with and talk about their experiences. Similarly, I  could always count on and feel comforted by Trish’s gentle and kind tone and approach, and be reassured about the work that I was doing with the youth and their families. –  THANK YOU TRISH! YOU WILL BE MISSED! 

Elizabeth Lovrics
Clinical Social Work/Therapist


In Celebration of Trish Bar!

April 2020

When you first meet Trish, a number of descriptors immediately come to mind: dedicated, compassionate, a consummate listener, self-assured yet humble, well-informed, warm, professional, and dedicated to the youth she serves. However, I have had the pleasure of working with Trish for many years (and I have valued everyone of those years), so I feel confident in saying that there is so much more to this remarkable woman.

Initially, I was struck by Trish’s considerable professional skills.  I was particularly impressed with her ability to use the interview process to learn as much as possible about a given youth, within significant time constraints. Instead of using a standard set of questions, Trish asked that were clinically informed questions, designed to provide a clear picture of the youth’s mental health, developmental functioning, delays and deficits, and areas of strength. She went even further though with questions that explored the various contexts of the youth’s life (e.g. social, familial, cultural, and political considerations), to ensure that she had a truly comprehensive understanding of the child.  It was apparent that Trish’s approach to interviewing a caregiver and formulating a youth’s functioning required in-depth listening and counselling skills to develop the next optimal, exploratory question. However, her style made this feel like a relaxed discussion and stimulating exchange of ideas. 

I imagine that few people can work at this level and make it seem so natural and relaxed.  However, Trish effectively combined her professional and clinical skills with an engaging, personable style.  As a result, she readily put you at ease with her warmth and gentle sense of humour, while getting down to the business of the clinical work. Trish also took time to acknowledge you personally or ask about your views on the changes in the caregiving field. In subsequent discussions, Trish recalled those personal details as though you had spoken the day before, instead of nine months ago. In truth, I’ve never encountered someone who could communicate so much and so meaningfully in a telephone discussion.

Another skill that I greatly appreciated was Trish’s ability to make you feel like a respected colleague.   Despite her watchdog role and her clear regard for the responsibilities and importance of her position, Trish always gave you the sense that you were working in partnership with her to serve the best interest of the youth. In recent years, group homes have become the orphaned children of social services, however, Trish created an atmosphere of mutuality and collaboration. Trish’s collegial approach also encouraged an exchange of ideas and suggestions, which always left me feeling enriched. 

Trish was equally skilled in her work with our residents.  Although she was mindful of a resident’s wants and her role as an advocate for those wants, she also took the resident’s needs into account.  Accordingly, she looked for win-win solutions that served both the youth’s needs and wants, and also considered the caregiver’s views and recommendations.  I think Trish might view her willingness to go the ‘extra mile’ as something to be expected, but I was always taken with her high standards of due diligence. Many of our residents benefitted from Trish’s efforts to find ideal outcomes but were unaware of what she did for them.  I am thankful on their behalf.

Trish also demonstrated a gentle hand and sensitivity in her follow-up work with our residents. She gave considerable thought to her approach, timing, and feedback, in order to optimally support a given youth. Although she often had to discuss sensitive issues with residents who were typically meeting her for the first time, Trish’s warm, caring, and invested approach provided a very positive experience of an advocacy agency.   Trish also worked collaboratively with the residence to develop an approach that did not unnecessarily destabilize a youth. I know my staff appreciated this!

In short, my experience of working with Trish can be likened to being served the perfect cup of tea while your best professional skills are being asked of you. The field of child and youth has been a better place for Trish’s presence, and she will be missed.

Trish, it’s been a pleasure and an honour to work with you, and all of us at Falconhurst wish you the very best in your future endeavours.

Diana Garcia
Clinical Director, Falconhurst

Trish!!!! I so miss you and wish you only the best in health, happiness and grandchildren.

Shirley Shedletsky
C.A.R.S. Program Coordinator

After working at Skylark for many years in various capacities I was excited to move into the semi-retirement phase of my career as the part-time RPAC Coordinator January of last year.  I assumed this role from Trish who was wearing two RPAC hats for some time (Coordinator and Citizen Chair).  Thankfully, Trish agreed to continue in the role of Citizen Chair which allowed me to become acquainted with the Coordinator responsibilities.  I can’t tell you how fortunate it has been to be mentored into the position by Trish and learn from her RPAC history which dates back to 1989.  Trish and I jived so well together that our contact with young people, parents and residential staff was always welcomed.  Together we carefully and thoughtfully navigated  conversations to formulate our recommendations.  Trish in her motherly, gentle and guided manner would ask questions that elicited youth to respond openly about their experience living in residential care.  Trish, I thank you so much for your wisdom and long term dedication to RPAC.  I will very much miss you.  PS……..I need to recruit  multiple volunteers to fill your RPAC shoes! 

Brenda Scott
Toronto R.P.A.C. Coordinator
Residential Placement Review Committee

It has been a pleasure to work with Trish in RPAC.  She has played an important role in keeping RPAC relevant and ensuring young people and our partners have a positive experience with RPAC.  Trish’s departure marks the end of an era for RPAC as she was the last remaining person from the original team – some 30 years ago.  In the past 2 years Trish has remained on as a Volunteer Committee member of RPAC and we can’t thank her enough for her dedication.   As she moves on from this volunteer role, I wish her the best in the years to come!

Cheryl Perera
Senior Director, Access and Complex Special Needs

Hi Trish,

It’s hard to believe that you have decided to retire. You have been such a mainstay in so many of our lives for so long. It’s been almost 30 years since we first met through RPAC… I think that my first thoughts regarding working with you Trish was your obvious dedication to ensuring that ‘kids’ were getting what they needed! I always senced that you felt a huge responsibility for each of the young people that you reviewed. Careful, deliberate and thoughtful about each of your reviews, I was always amazed at your patience, your empathy and characteristic nurturing in all your dealings.

It was such a pleasure for me to work with you.

I miss, and the system of caring for children will miss, your passion, calmness and professionalism.

Thank you for the many years of dedication and for the pleasure of working alongside you.

May you find much joy in your retirement with Frank and the girls….

Paul McCormack, Former Skylark Senior Director & Former RPAC Coordinator