For a total of six weeks a unique pilot is running to give kids with complex medical needs a rare chance to hang out and play together, and their parents—who have few chances for respite as caregivers—a much needed weekend break. The brainchild of VHA Home HealthCare (VHA), a not for profit organization founded in 1925, the program—which runs out of Scarborough Village Public School— emerged out of a noticeable gap in the system identified by parental caregivers.
“Many of these kids go to school during the week thanks to onsite medical support. But opportunities for play outside of the classroom are rare and need lots of co-ordination,” says Caroline Hunter, Regional Manager at VHA Home HealthCare and current chair of VHA’s Client and Career Advisory Council. “Input from our client and family partners highlighted the need for a play program that gives parents a break, has the medical supervision in place to give moms and dads peace of mind that their kids will be safe and the programming to create a brilliantly fun day for the kids.”
“It’s really an incredible experience to watch,” says Alexandra Dunlop, Occupational Therapist and VHA Playdate program lead. “The activities, from music to arts and crafts to sports in the gym create an atmosphere that is nothing short of magical.” Parents are able to comfortably leave their children for three and a half hours as each child is paired with his or her own Personal Support Worker and is also supported by an on-site Registered Nurse to address any immediate medical issue.
VHA Playdate currently receives funding from a VHA Ideas to Action/Innovation grant but is looking to secure long-term investments to make this an ongoing support for parents of children with complex medical needs. “The need for respite for caregivers is really starting to get the attention it deserves,” notes VHA’s CEO and President, Carol Annett.
“These caregivers are really the heart of the health care system, so any chance we can give them to relax and recharge is not only welcome, but necessary to ensure the sustainability of the system. But these programs, while a great once-and-a-while break need to become mainstays that government and other agencies are willing to invest in over the long term.”