The Value of Social Work Campaign Champions Program
Social Worker Champion: Abby Lidster
Overcoming the unique challenges of working in the north
Abby Lidster understands the unique circumstances of being a social worker in northern Saskatchewan. Families experience isolation, travel long distances (sometimes to several locations) just to get groceries and fuel, and experience extreme poverty that can make it difficult for them to leave the community and get the resources they require.
“Not only do families experience a lack of resources, but the workers do as well as there is very limited resources to refer families to in such small, isolated communities,” she said. “Therefore planning as a social worker must be creative in that there are unique challenges each community faces that you must be aware of and willing to address.”
Despite the challenges, Lidster appreciates working in the north and connecting with other professionals, Elders and Indigenous Child and Family Services in a team approach to solving problems.
For the last two years, Lidster has been a Child Protection Worker with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Social Services in Child and Family Programs. Her caseload is primarily located in Sandy Bay, Creighton, Denare Beach, and Pelican Narrows so she travels frequently throughout the north.
Her role is to assess and determine child safety and to work with families to address risk factors that affect child safety through interventions, education and support. She is also responsible for children or youth who are admitted to the care of the Ministry on a long or short term basis ensuring that their needs are met and they remain connected to their families.
“I have a passion for helping other people and I was always looking for opportunities to support others in my life,” she said. “My friends throughout my life would often come to me for advice and support. When I began volunteering with the Battlefords Boys and Girls Club I loved working with the children and youth who attended our programming. I believe that being able to have a career that allows me to work with children and their families is what led me to social work.”
Lidster took her first year of Social Work while living in North Battleford through the distance education program from the University of Regina. The following year she was accepted into the University of Manitoba Social Work Program and moved to Winnipeg to obtain her Bachelor of Social Work.
Her first practicum involved supporting youth who had court-mandated community service hours and her second practicum was to support elementary students in a Winnipeg school division. During this time she also worked in the Boarding Program at Balmoral Hall School with international adolescent and teenage girls.
“From these roles I learned of my love for working with youth and their families,” said Lidster. “Following this degree I returned to rural Saskatchewan and got a term job with Social Services in Nipawin. I enjoyed my work and the support that I receive working in this office and then applied for a permanent position once one was available.”
Lidster has had many rewarding experiences throughout her career. She said that it’s truly rewarding each time she works with a youth or family and they tell her their story or let her know that she can be trusted.
Last summer she organized a camp for the Sandy Bay/Pelican Narrows Youth in Care and Custody Network. Seeing the youth having fun, cooking, learning about smudging and traditional medicines from an Elder, swimming, and playing charades was a valuable experience.
“I believe that the most meaningful experience I have had thus far as a social worker was when myself and my coworkers were presented with eagle feathers by the Elder James Burns. This was in recognition for our work with families that supports reconciliation and healing by incorporating cultural competence into our everyday work. This experience reminded me that decolonization is an everyday act that one does through their work and that even social workers working within the systems of government have the power to make change that can support reconciliation.“
Lidster said that she considers social workers as navigators of the confusing systems that we all live in. She believes that social workers help make sense of arbitrary concepts and complicated systems and have the ability to be creative in problem solving for families and youth. She also believes that social workers help provide families with opportunities to feel supported and successful throughout their life journeys.
“If someone was considering a career in social work I would tell them that if they enjoy helping others and working with people then social work would be a great career choice. I believe that social workers are dynamic individuals who are flexible and creative in their plans and who are willing to measure success in many different ways.”