Athabasca Advocate – December 5, 2017 Helping kids by their powers combined

Community services band together to help children who have special needs or behavioural problems

Athabasca’s community service organizations have banded together to help special needs children with a program like none other in the province.

The Coalition 4 Success presented to Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater MLA Colin Piquette about its unique program on Dec. 1 at the Athabasca County Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) building.

The Coalition 4 Success provides additional supports for children with behavioural problems or special needs during the summer months, hiring extra staff for the Whispering Hills Day Care summer care programming.

Those staff help special needs children integrate with the day care’s general programming while kids are out of school, ensuring parents have a program they can turn to for child care during the summer.

“Athabasca has a lot of community programs for students,” said local school therapist Jenifer Borgen. “But unfortunately, what we were finding was when our students have behavioural challenges, they aren’t able to successfully attend those groups.”

To meet the demand for programming that can better accommodate special needs, a variety of Athabasca organizations – including Athabasca County FCSS, Aspen Collaborative Services, Whispering Hills Day Care and Aspen View Public Schools – came together to form the Coalition 4 Success.

By pooling resources, the coalition was able to fund the new program, which has run out of Whispering Hills Day Care over the past two summers. Childcare licensing supervisor Gloria Vanderburgh said the organizations were able to work together well to create and maintain the program.

“We came to the table talking about what we can do, not what we can’t do,” Vanderburgh said.

The program assisted nine children in 2016 and six children in 2017. The additional staff work with the children to adapt programming as needed to ensure it suits the child. 

“There’s staff that can stay behind and they can plan something specific to what they want to do,” Vanderburgh said. “It provides that flexibility to children.”

According to the Coalition 4 Success, the additional support has resulted in those children being better able to form friendships and work on social skills, as well as reducing the amount of social and emotional support they require in school.

“Making sure that kids are able to take part,” said Athabasca County FCSS manager Debbie Woods. “So those kids aren’t ostracized. They’re part of the community.”

The coalition is unique in the province, although groups in Edson are exploring a similar model, according to regional manager of Aspen Collaborative Services Sandra Zesko.

The program is limited to children six to 12, the same age range for the Whispering Hills Day Care summer programming. The cost for the Coalition 4 Success program is approximately $5,000 for staffing, although Woods said that does not include lot of things provided in-kind, such as the use of the Whispering Hills Day Care facility.

Piquette complimented the program and said it might be a model that would work well elsewhere.

“This is something that if it makes sense here, it makes sense in Edson, (it) makes sense in a whole lot of other communities, especially if you’re leveraging existing funding streams,” Piquette said. “A real success story that can definitely make a big impact on the lives of children (and) their parents.”

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