It’s Saturday afternoon, and in the halls of a Scarborough school you can hear the sound of laughter and song radiating from the gym. About a dozen children are taking part in VHA’s Playdate, a pilot program that serves children with complex medical needs who have cognitive delay and/or are wheelchair dependent.
“Play is an integral part of childhood,” says Caroline Hunter, Regional Manager of Client Services at VHA. “But because these children have complex medical needs, they spend a lot of their time at doctors’ appointments and having tests and procedures done. Playdate is a chance for them to just be kids and have fun in a safe environment.”
The concept was developed by family caregivers with the dual goals of offering a stimulating program for children and young adults with special needs and giving their parents an opportunity for much-needed relief and relaxation. Led by VHA staff and service providers, the participants, who range in age from 4 to 25 years, have a blast with music, art and other social, fun activities. Parents, meanwhile, rest assured that their children are supervised and receiving support from trained nurses and Personal Support Workers.
Initial feedback—from both the kids’ smiling faces and parental interviews—has been overwhelmingly positive. “On the weekends they (my kids) like to get out,” noted one mother whose children were part of the pilot. “At Playdate we feel comfortable because it is professional and safe. They are familiar and accepting and they fit in. You aren’t worried about people’s reactions – you can relax and feel comfortable.”
The Playdate program ran as a free pilot for six weeks in October and November. Despite its overwhelming success, we haven’t yet secured long-term funding to keep the program running. While VHA applies for grants and looks for other opportunities for continued support, we are also soliciting donations through our website to keep the program going. The page also links to a CTV news story on the program. Our goal is to secure funding to run—at minimum—another six-week program in the New Year to give children on our wait list a chance to participate.