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CASE STUDIESCreating Meaningful, Sensitive, and Personally Engaging Staff Training for FamilySmart


Harper Learning collaborated with Progressive Media Management (PMM) on a Staff Development Program for FamilySmart that helps equip employees with the skills they need to provide mental health support resources.


The Institute of Families for Child and Youth Mental Health (FamilySmart) helps youth and families navigate and access mental health support. These services mean they need an excellent staff development training program to prepare their team.

This project was a fantastic opportunity for us to use our innovative skills. We had to envision how to engage people with a wide diversity of experiences in effective, appealing, and personally meaningful ways. The management team at FamilySmart needed a comprehensive orientation and onboarding program that would help new staff learn their roles and commit to providing services the FamilySmart way.

They didn’t want to onboard staff in a cookie-cutter style; rather, their goal was to guide their team to learn, develop, and expand their core competencies, to better understand their individual alignment with the organization’s mission, vision, and values.

What impressed me was Cara’s creative design approach, linking who the employee is, their experience and their vision, to what the organization does, offers, and needs. It isn’t a course that tells the new employee who they need to be. Instead, it guides them to find alignment and their own “why” for doing the work they do.

Kerry Elfstrom, Principal, Progressive Media Management


For many years, FamilySmart had done orientation and onboarding on a personalized, ad hoc basis. They realized, however, that to scale up and increase their reach throughout the province, they needed to standardize their processes.

The proposed solution? An online staff development program reinforced by virtual and in-person touch-bases with management. The challenge? How to achieve this without sacrificing the organization’s personal touch and their commitment to honouring each staff member’s unique lived experience.

That’s where we stepped in.

Specific requirements of the staff training program

  • Three-day orientation and multi-week onboarding
  • Supplementary materials for learners and management
  • Competency-based job function description
  • Practical, personally engaging learning strategies that are relevant to the real world
  • Development and delivery in ways that are sensitive to and inclusive of mental health practices
A counsellor who received staff training helps a teenager by offering compassionate support.


After strategizing with PMM, our team planned and developed an online learning program that included

  • An online orientation program staff will take over three days and followed up with six more weeks of staff training
  • Engaging visuals, including custom graphics to illustrate staff practices
  • Concrete examples of desired competencies, including skills, behaviours, and actions
  • Reflection and touch-base opportunities with management
  • A fillable Workbook where participants could reflect and do activities associated with each topic in the program
  • A Manager Toolkit for managers to follow along and support participants throughout the program

The program launched in September 2018 and has been extremely well received by leadership, existing team members, and new staff. Our novel and creative design approach was exactly what FamilySmart needed, and they appreciated our ability to link the organization’s vision with each staff member’s unique sense of self and what they bring to the role. The staff training program has enabled new hires to see a path toward the future and inspired them to travel it.

Many new FamilySmart hires reached out after taking their staff training:

“I’ve done onboarding with other employers, but this is the most meaningful, sensitive and personally engaging program I’ve ever seen or participated in.” 
“This was by far the best orientation I have ever experienced and definitely made me feel excited to be a part of Family Smart.”
“I would like to thank everyone who put this together and made this possible. It was truly an amazing and nourishing experience to do the training in this way.”
“For me, this program made me more confident that this is the work I want to do.”

Program participants, FamilySmart New Hire Orientation Program

Collaborating to make a difference

Our team loves projects like this—where we can collaborate and deliver results that truly make a difference. The sobering reality is that mental health challenges are increasing in our province, and youth and families are frequently overwhelmed by the complexity of healthcare systems and supports. We’re proud of our contribution to a staff training program that will help youth and families make connections to the tools, resources, and professional support they need and deserve to help things go better for them.

The FamilySmart management team is very pleased with the services Harper Learning provided through PMM. We are so grateful for the work you did – we received high value for our investment.

FamilySmart® management team – Keli Anderson, CEO, Robin Brown, Manager HR and Christie Durnin, Manager Programs and Services