Martine Ahenakew has overcome a lot of life’s hardships to reunite her family.
The single mother of three is now clean and sober, working full time, and taking care of her kids. It is a dramatic difference from where she was a few years ago and it took a lot of hard work and dedication.
Martine has experienced many roadblocks in her life including generational trauma, residential schools, addiction, the loss of a child, and abuse.
Her parents were addicts, so she was raised by her grandparents.
“I didn’t know how to live. My grandparents were too old to raise us. It’s really hard growing up with parents who are in addiction,” Martine added. “I didn’t know how to deal with my emotions. I gave up on life. All I knew how to do was use drugs to numb the hurt, anger, and sadness.”
The combination of life events began to pull apart her family. Her two oldest girls were placed in Ranch Ehrlo’s Treatment Foster Care Program. Her son was placed in another program. There weren’t any plans for reunification because Martine was no longer in contact with her children.
“My heart ached for my children all the time, but I didn’t know what to do,” she said.
Her children were about to be permanently placed with the Ministry of Social Services when someone knocked on her door and changed the trajectory of her life.
The girls’ clinical caseworker with the TFC program tracked her down and spoke with her about having the opportunity to reunite with her children, but she was going to have to work for it. The caseworker then advocated with the Ministry of Social Services for Martine to be considered for Ranch Ehrlo’s Family Treatment Program (FTP).
The FTP works to improve family safety, family functioning, and child wellbeing so families can remain together.
Before coming to the FTP, Martine said that she didn’t know how to do many daily tasks people take for granted. She didn’t know how to process emotions, she couldn’t make a doctor’s appointment, and she didn’t know about self-care, or even how to talk with her children.
“I felt like a newborn baby with street smarts. When you’re in addiction, you don’t know how to do anything except use drugs and get drugs. I had to learn how to live,” she said.
She credits her remarkable transformation to Ranch staff, especially her family preservation therapist, Theerie Hill. “She had faith in me when no one else did including me! I wouldn’t be alive right now if it weren’t for Theerie and the Ranch,” she said.
She worked really hard within the FTP programming. She took parenting classes, individual therapy, equine therapy, joined Narcotics Anonymous, and took many other steps to get herself well so she could care for her children.
Theerie said, “Martine’s resilience, strong sense of self, and willingness to engage with others supported her and her children through the challenges of the treatment process, which led to meaningful outcomes for the entire family.”
Theerie went on to say that Martine’s many personal attributes, including her charisma, compassion, and sense of humour fostered deep connections with her support network and program participants during her time at the FTP, and will continue to serve her in her journey forward.
Martine also worked with the Treatment Foster Care parents who were looking after her girls. Heather and Quincy were the first family caring for her youth. In their home, the girls were able to learn Indigenous culture and practices. Once a reunification plan was in place, the girls moved to Brittanie and Sam’s home.
Brittanie explained that there were times when she and Martine didn’t agree, but they communicated and worked their way through any disagreements, making sure they could keep an open dialogue.
Brittanie and Sam started out slow with Martine and her children in the reunification process. First with supervised visits, then unsupervised visits, then sleepovers, then weekends together.
Brittanie said, “Martine has set the bar pretty high for others to reach. She worked so hard to get well and be reunited with her children.”
All three families continue to stay in touch. Martine invited Brittanie and Sam to her one-year anniversary of joining Narcotics Anonymous. Heather and Quincy regularly take her children on outings so Martine can have a break or catch up on housework.
“They’re my family now,” said Martine.
Lisa Neill, manager of Treatment Foster Care said, “She has worked incredibly hard in the programming to be successful. We’re all very proud of her.”
Martine now speaks to Treatment Foster Care parents so the parents can appreciate and understand the difficult journeys the biological families must make to be reunited with their children.
Lisa said, “She is a huge advocate for any biological parent going through a similar journey and has volunteered to share her experience with anyone needing that little extra support.”
“Our ultimate goal is to reunite our biological families whenever possible so to be truly successful we must be able to first understand,” Lisa concluded.