By Katherine Matiko, Communications Coordinator, Catholic Family Service

Since introducing Families and Schools Together (F&ST) to Canada 20 years ago, Catholic Family Service has worked closely with local organizations to deliver this internationally-renowned prevention program to Calgary families.

Last night, supporters gathered at McDougall Centre to celebrate the fact that over 7,200 children and parents have benefited from a program that saves society over $900,000 a year in future mental health or intervention costs.1

David Pham, who was seven years old when he participated in the first F&ST program in 1996, remembers the fun he had every week after school while developing closer bonds with his family and teachers.

“I remember the potlucks, raffles and fun activities,” he said. “I was oblivious to the fact that Patricia Jones (now CEO of Catholic Family Service) and Mike Ross (now Area Superintendent with the Calgary Catholic School District), along with a handful of families, were discovering an innovative way of building a community.”

panelDavid and Mike participated in a panel discussion with Kayla Zahorouski, a parent graduate of the program, and Cheryl Houtekamer, a longtime champion of F&ST through her work with addiction prevention at Alberta Health Services.

Kayla remembers the apprehension she felt on the first night of the F&ST program she attended with her three young children.

“The first night was scary because I didn’t know anyone, and as a single mom, I was felt I was going to be judged,” Kayla said. “By the end, I felt empowered.”

Created in 1988 in the US and now operating in 20 countries, F&ST was rated 11th of 150 top family skills programs in the world by the United Nations. CEO Patricia Jones said that Catholic Family Service has rigorously evaluated the program each year since bringing it to Calgary.

“We have extensive data that consistently demonstrates that participation in the F&ST program makes life better for families,” she said.

“The bond between moms and dads and their children is stronger, parents are less stressed and feel more supported, children do better in school, substance abuse and a host of other risks for children are prevented, and parents are empowered to be leaders in their homes, schools and community,” she said.

“These positive changes are part of a worldwide movement and Calgary has played a critical role in starting and keeping the momentum for F&ST in Canada.”

katy-patricia-sarahPatricia said that without strong partnerships with the Calgary Catholic School District, the Calgary Board of Education and Alberta Health Services, as well as funding support from Family and Community Support Services, the United Way of Calgary and Area, Catholic Charities, Calgary Catholic Teachers’ Charities Association, RBC Foundation and the Coyes Family Fund, F&ST would not be possible.

“As we celebrate 20 years, we recommit to serving these families and school communities as fiercely as we can for another 20 and beyond.”

1 Alberta Government Social Return on Investment Case Study 2013

In 2016-2017, CFS will offer five F&ST programs in Catholic elementary schools and three in public elementary schools. Parents and children from 10 – 12 families meet weekly for nine weeks at their child’s school. With support from school staff and a social worker, families make connections with other families, while parents develop and practice positive parenting and leadership skills. Read more here.