When Dawn Harper’s daughter Dennell was a child, it seemed as though she was navigating life as a parent of a child with special needs with a faded map and no compass. She felt like she was fighting a constant battle to get the support Dennell needed – and, she was fighting it alone. Today, Dennell has two kids of her own, Jacob and Abby Sumairsingh, and the family is once again navigating life with a child with special needs – but the experience is completely different.
As a baby, Jacob was not growing as he should. As he became older, he had very low muscle tone and was not walking or talking the way most children would. He did not walk until the age of 2, and today at 4, has only a few words. While Jacob and his family are still waiting for a diagnosis, he has made significant progress thanks to an innovative new resource support model developed by a group of six community partners, including ErinoakKids.
Known as the Peel Inclusive Resource Service
(PIRS), the award-winning model provides more consistent and co-ordinated special needs services to families and childcare providers in Peel region. Through the program’s Enhanced Program Support (EPS) service, childcare providers and children with special needs receive additional hands-on assistance in the classroom by ErinoakKids staff.
Before PIRS was established, the system was fragmented and inefficient in addressing the needs of families. Children were often placed on a long waitlist to receive specialized support at a childcare centre, and children without a diagnosis like Jacob, often never received these supports at all.
“Through PIRS, every licenced childcare provider has access to a resource consultant who works directly with their childcare team to ensure they have the skills and strategies in place so that all children can fully participate in programming regardless of their differing abilities,” says ErinoakKids Early Childhood Resource Consultant Ivana Parolin. “As a resource consultant, I help families identify goals, provide them with strategies and information, direct them to additional supports, and connect them with their childcare provider and other partners.”
For Dawn, having access to a resource consultant like Ivana has been life-changing.
“With Dennell, things were so different,” explains Dawn. “Today we have support in navigating the system. Ivana helped us find ways to support Jacob and guide us through options we didn’t know existed.”
Thanks to Ivana’s involvement, Jacob is now receiving Speech and Language services and Occupational Therapy services at ErinoakKids. He is beginning to use words to communicate his needs and the family now has strategies in place to help Jacob eat safely to avoid choking concerns.
“Through PIRS, staff are able to identify earlier than ever before when a child is in need of additional services and supports,” Ivana says. “That’s the true benefit. We are ensuring the right types of services are available to children so that no child is left behind.”
In February 2015, the Institute of Public Administration of Canada (IPAC) and Deloitte honoured PIRS with the Public Sector Leadership Bronze Award. This national award recognizes outstanding leadership, innovation, and community collaboration in public policy and management.
PIRS is a collaboration of ErinoakKids, Community Living Mississauga, Brampton Caledon Community Living, Region of Peel, Peel Children’s Centre and Surrey Place. Since 2015, more than 1,300 children with special needs have benefitted from PIRS supports.