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Child Therapy Program Continues Through Pandemic With United Way Support 

2020-WEBSizeeditFamily-using-laptop-552210.jpgGoing to kindergarten for the first time is a big deal; helping kids get there despite the pandemic.

All of a sudden your world is filled with people like you, except they’re different. And there is this big person who isn’t your parent, and you want their attention, but everyone wants their attention. And they are trying to get you and everyone to do things, and you’re not sure why or if you even want to do the things. And the people like you but not you are talking, and you think that actually, you want to be the one talking, and then maybe you have to go to the bathroom … 

It can be a lot to deal with. For some kids, learning from everyone around them and attending preschool is enough to be ready for kindergarten. But for others, some extra preparation and support are crucial for them to successfully begin their first-ever career: learning. 

That’s where the Campbell River and District Association for Community Living (CRADACL) comes in. They offer occupational therapy, physiotherapy and speech and language therapy for children from birth to school entry at Dogwood Place Child and Youth Development Centre. 

These Early Intervention programs offer assessments and consultations as well as the therapy itself. 

“We have two sorts of lenses that we look through,” says Suzanne Macdonald, a speech-language pathologist and the supervisor of the Speech-Language Program.  “One is about helping the child build their skills so that they can be more successful in their world.  

“But also, we look at the world around them, and [consider] how can we adapt things to help that child be more successful. So sometimes, for some children who maybe are having a hard time picking up on all that information … through listening to language, for example, we might set up a picture communication system where there is a visual schedule in their classroom too … That’s where strategies in classrooms and meeting with the school team that’s transitioning in, and all those pieces, come in.” 

Finding out if a child needs this kind of support, and getting it for them as soon as possible can make a big difference in their lives, says Suzanne.  

“Those little brains, they are really doing a lot of development in those first six years. The sooner the kids come in, the sooner we can get a sense of what’s happening.” 

Despite a long waitlist for services, CRADACL’s therapy programs do their best to meet with families as soon as possible. 

“It’s our job to meet children where they are at, as well as to help them get as far as they can on their path,” she says. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Suzanne and her colleagues have certainly stuck to that mantra.  

Like many traditionally in-person services, CRADACL’s child therapy programs found themselves having to suddenly shut down due to pandemic safety measures. 

“We right away started thinking about, how can we continue?” says Suzanne, as therapists knew that any stoppage would mean families that had waited patiently for their turn would have to wait even longer. 

So she and her colleagues got to work learning how to perform therapy over the phone or through video chat meetings. That also meant creating the technological infrastructure to be remotely connected to work, to patient files, and to the patients themselves. 

United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island granted CRADACL funds from the federal government’s Emergency Community Support Fund to help afford the laptops and other equipment needed to pull off this massive change. 

“It took us a good month or so to be ready,” Suzanne recalls. 

But now, Suzanne and her colleagues are successfully providing therapy virtually. A key component to that is enlisting the help of parents. 

“That’s one of the huge benefits [to providing therapy this way],” she said. “One thing that we really consider in the work that we do, it’s really about helping parents to have the tools to support their child.” Though therapists may be available to a child for an hour a week, having a parent know how to help makes a huge difference. 

There have also been other unexpected benefits to doing therapy this way, says Suzanne. One child she works with had difficulty speaking with strangers. But Suzanne was able to simply tilt her screen down to her hands and work with her through puppets and other toys until the child was ready to meet her “face-to-face". 

With those hidden benefits, as well as being able to offer services without parents needing to travel, the additional capacity of being able to provide therapy is and will continue to be a huge boon to the program even once the pandemic is over, says Suzanne. 

United Way believes that we can best get through this pandemic by keeping important services like this running. 

“You feel like you’ve got partners out there,” says Suzanne of UWCNVI’s support. “We see the need, we work really hard for the parents to not feel alone in their need. And to know that we have the backing of our community partners … [we know] we’re not alone in this.” 

To keep impactful programs like this one running in your community, please consider donating to your local United Way today.  

For more information on CRADACL’s Early Intervention programs, go to www.cradacl.bc.ca/early-intervention-programs