Penny Trites is a distinguished team leader who supervises Agassiz, Seabird Island, Harrison Hot Springs, the Fraser Canyon and Peters reserve in her work with the Agassiz and Fraser Canyon Child and Family Services Team with the Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD).
She was also the recipient of the 2015 Emerging Leader Premier Award.
“My motto is to do the best child centered, family focused, and culturally and community minded work. We do generalist social work out here, we’re not like a specialized team, which is something you see more in the urban centre,” she told The Observer.
Trites’ team focuses on child protection reports that come in, which includes intakes and investigations, providing support to families, foster families, and really doing the very best planning that they can for children.
They deal with everything from calls from the families themselves asking for help and that’s always been her goal, to build enough trust within the communities they service.
The Ministry’s goal is for families to feel safe and to know the organization is going to support and care for them.
“It’s important that they know they can call us and that happens quite a lot,” she said.
The organization also gets calls from concerned citizens and professionals if they feel children are being harmed or if families are in need of extra support.
Trites credits a lot of her success to having an absolutely fabulous team.
“I honestly think that all of them have hearts bigger than they can carry — it’s using collaboration and finding out what the families truly need to make things better and we try to empower the families to come up with the best plans they can,” she said.
Her team puts referrals in with great community partners, within Agassiz, Boston Bar, and the reserves they service which include Seabird Island, Peters, Union Bar, Spuzzum, Boston Bar, and Boothroyd.
Trites was gracious about receiving the Emerging Leader Premier Award, as she shared the experience of it, which included a presentation made by Christy Clark at the Victoria Conference Centre.
The award really spoke to the work that is being done within East Fraser Service Delivery area. “It’s not just me — to me it represents a lot of good work that’s being done, and it was really an honour because the emerging leader award was done by votes and that made it feel even more surreal.”
Trites started with the organization in 1999, in the same building she’s in now, on Pioneer Ave in Agassiz.
The team leader’s arrival in her profession was no accident. She wanted to change the system from within after dealing with a less progressive system in her own childhood.
Trites started with humble beginnings having grown up in a little village in Saskatchewan with a population of just under 100 people.
“I was adopted at birth and I didn’t know my true identity, that I am Metis. It was in the 70s and even my birth date was wrong. I was adopted into a loving family with lots of poverty.”
After having lost her Dad instantly when she was 14, life changed drastically for the social worker. The system ended up taking her brother out of the home and because she was older she was able to stay.
“The community I grew up in wrapped their arms around me — they kept me safe and they told me that I was important and that I mattered and that I could do and become anything, so when I had lost all hope they kept me safe.”
This taught her great compassion when she reflected upon her life.
“Don’t ever look down on someone else, unless you’re willing to bend down and pick them up yourself,” she said, of one of the greatest lessons her life experience taught her.
Trites is a firm believer that it really does take a community to raise a child.
“I don’t know where I would be without my friend’s, teacher’s, parent’s and even the local RCMP — they instilled hope and belief in me and as a teenager — I knew I wanted to be a social worker and I was never going to treat people a certain way because of how the system treated my family.”
The system impacted Trites family negatively, and that was something she wanted to change when she got into social work. The system has improved in that they work using a more collaborative approach than they did before.
“They do everything they can do to keep a child safe in their home, in their communities and connected to their culture,” she said.
Trites is passionate about her work, and glows, as she speaks about the day to day operations.
“I can’t believe I get paid to come here every day, and if I won the lottery I would volunteer — I have been treated with the most respect, working under and with an amazing leadership team, in a culture that wants to build you up and allow you to shine and to do your very best.”
Trites reunited with her birth parents when she was 18. Her birth dad passed away in 2001 and her birth mom lives in Chilliwack. “I believe it is every person’s inherent right to know who they are and where they come from.”
She found a practicum with Dr. Rob Lees, Child and Youth Mental Health in Chilliwack, worked in group homes and then applied for The Ministry, where she’s been ever since.
One of the biggest things for her has been the ability to work with family and community and to create the very best plans for them and their children.
“It’s about finding safe homes for children, when it’s not safe for them to go home, and it’s about preventing kids from going into care to begin with,” she said. “It’s the relationships, I feel like I’m family on so many levels, especially the First Nations communities that we serve — I feel like I’m part of their communities now.”
Everything is about trust, according to Trites, which involves time. Trites’ belief is that the act of walking together in partnership models truth and reconciliation which is her biggest goal in the future for the Ministry.
“I want to continue to walk in partnership and make right what was made wrong,” she said of her work with the First Nations communities.
One of the challenges the organization faces is funding, and staffing according to Trites, though the team she has is an award winning one.
She supervises five and a half staff and credits much of her success to them.
“We’re all so different and complement each other so well — we’re a really really tight group.”
Trites shares her success model and acknowledges that it’s about finding and enhancing strengths in others and helping to lift them up so they can be all they can be — she will find strengths in her staff and match them to tasks and cases accordingly.
“I believe in living and working your passion and feeding your hunger,” she said.