Simar Kaur, an early learning childcare student, helps some preschool kids at the Yukon Child Development Centre with snack time. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Child Development Centre marks 40 years of service

CDC now serves families throughout the territory

The intro on the Child Development Centre’s (CDC) web page says it all: “Questions about your child’s development? Call us. We can help.”

That’s exactly what the organization has been doing for 40 years working with the territory’s five-and-under population and their families.

As the CDC celebrates its 40th anniversary, officials are looking back on how far it’s come from its beginnings with two part-time staffers working out of a trailer behind Selkirk Elementary School to efforts that now extend into communities throughout the territory whether that be meeting kids and families in their homes, at the CDC satellite office at the Kwanlin Dün First Nation’s government offices in McIntyre or out of the CDC’s own building on Lewes Boulevard.

As CDC executive director Alayne Squair put it exactly where kids receive services these days “really depends on the needs of the child.”

Working out of the CDC now are speech-language pathologists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, developmental therapists, therapy assistants, a psychologist, a teacher, an intake coordinator and a diagnostic coordinator. Along with providing specialized services for youngsters who need specific services, CDC staff are also there to answer questions and provide information about child development to families.

The Follow Along Program offered through CDC provides an opportunity for parents to learn more about development for children up to age three, what to expect and ask questions along the way.

Parents don’t need a professional referral for CDC services. So if anyone out there is wondering if something might be up with their child’s behaviour or development, be sure to get in touch, Squair said.

For some families going to the CDC might mean bringing their kids to the therapeutic preschool program at the CDC’s main building; for others it might be best to have a CDC speech therapist come to a families’ home and work with the child there.

The CDC officially began offering services in 1979 out of the trailer behind Selkirk Elementary School to less than a dozen kids. Work to get it up and running took about a year.

It was a small group of people involved with the Learning Disabilities Association of the Yukon who saw a gap in services for preschool kids with special needs and began the effort.

As the years went by and the need for more services became evident, CDC expanded offering more therapies for families and hiring more staff.

In 1992 CDC began bringing services to the communities with Squair and another speech therapist hired to travel around the territory ensuring services were delivered outside of Whitehorse.

The CDC now has a full travel schedule for therapists to visit communities on a regular basis where they connect with local First Nations, community organizations and schools that have Kindergarten programs for four-year-olds (after a child is five, the Department of Education is supposed to provide services to school-aged kids with special needs) to work with families. Many communities also have early childhood therapy assistants who work with families in between visits from the CDC.

“We were very welcomed,” Squair recalled of those early days going into the communities.

Thanks to staff consistency, those relationships have grown.

Within Whitehorse the CDC has also grown.

It was 24 years ago the CDC applied for and received federal funding to start the satellite office with the Kwanlin Dün First Nation. That’s continued with the CDC able to better reach members of the First Nation. Prior to that, Squair said the CDC was not getting a lot of calls or seeing a lot of clients from the First Nation. That changed when the office was established there, she said.

Demand for the CDC’s programs only continues to grow with 35 to 50 referrals coming in each month to the fully accredited rehabilitation facility.

There’s a waiting list for some services like speech therapies in Whitehorse. While the CDC operates on a priority basis to ensure those with the greatest needs can begin therapy ASAP, Squair said in some cases families are waiting up to nine months for services.

At the end of October there was a waiting list of 119 children for 145 services as some children are waiting for more than one service.

That’s something Squair wants to change as the CDC moves forward.

“Kids shouldn’t be waiting,” she said. “We know early intervention makes a difference.”

CDC staff are working to put together numbers and information for the Department of Health and Social Services (which provides core funding to the CDC) to look at how the issue can be addressed.

“The needs are there,” she said, highlighting a few potential reasons for the increased demand on services.

An ever-increasing population in Whitehorse is likely one factor along with more complex needs for a number of children, she said.

Megan Yakiwchuk said she was fortunate not to have a long wait for two of her kids to get service through the CDC, but she would like to see the CDC have more resources so that other families aren’t waiting for services.

It was when her middle son was about a two she expressed some concerns about his speech to a public health nurse. The nurse then told her about the CDC and suggested she call.

“That was the first step,” Yakiwchuk said.

Her son received speech therapy through the Target Word program the CDC had at the time. Along with the therapy provided directly by the CDC, Yakiwchuk said staff also provided the family with a lot of tools for them at home.

The family has also used the services of the CDC for their third son and when they have general questions about their children’s development.

“There’s so much support,” she said. “It’s such a valuable resource to the community.”

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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Rachel Moser, speech language pathologist, reads with one of the students at the Yukon Child Development Centre. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

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