Daleste Haddow had all the how-to books for expecting moms, and was making plans for life with her first child.
But those plans went out the window when Hayden arrived just after the six-month mark in her pregnancy - a tiny baby facing giant challenges. Instead of cuddling Hayden in the family’s Fort St. John home, Daleste spent the next 341 days in Vancouver hospitals with Hayden nestled in a web of tubes and monitors in intensive care. “It was so hard to be there,” she recalls. “It was just overwhelming.”
Things were just as challenging for Daleste and husband Blair when Hayden came home. Still fed through tubes and needing oxygen, he was far behind in his development. Brain scarring due to a lack of oxygen during his hospital stays had added to his challenges.
But when the family returned to Fort St. John, they weren’t alone. The Fort St. John Child Development Centre team was ready.
The non-profit centre runs programs for children and families from its own well-equipped building. But that wasn’t an option for Hayden, who still relied on oxygen and was vulnerable to infections. So therapists and child-development experts came to him.
“They actually did home visits for the first year and a half,” Daleste says. “They just came to our house and brought everything.”
It was a badly needed safety net. “You don’t really know where to start, how to guide him to the next step,” she says. The Fort St. John Child Development Centre team helped the family work with Hayden on movement -things like sitting up and basic motor skills. Speech therapy came later.
The centre was a constant during a stressful time for the family. That’s exactly how it’s supposed to work, says centre executive director Penny Gagnon.
The Child Development Centre offers early, effective intervention and family support, she says. For some families, that could mean intensive support for a child with health or development challenges. For others, it’s a chance to attend parenting programs or access the services of a speech therapist.
Last year, the centre helped more than 1,200 children and families.
The workers from the centre tried to make visits fun for Hayden, recalls Daleste. They incorporated physiotherapy, speech therapy, and motor skills into play activities.
“It had to be a team approach,” says Fatima Vecchio, who worked with the family as their physiotherapist. “The earlier children can access these services, the better.”
It wasn’t easy. “Hayden didn’t really pick up anything on his own,” Daleste says. “He really needed guided, structured play to learn things.” Even learning to eat required much effort.
But progress has been steady. Hayden moved from home therapy to programs and one-on-one sessions at the centre. After major leg surgery at age four, he rehabilitated with the help of the centre’s hydro-therapy pool.
Now he’s starting Grade 2, and doing well with the help of a full-time aide. It was a tough transition to school, Daleste acknowledges. “You’re kind of sheltered from the differences in the kids when you’re in programs,” she says.
But the centre had worked with the family on strategies to help Hayden make the transition to kindergarten, and he loves school now.
Any parent could find themselves in similar circumstances as her family, Daleste notes. That’s what makes the support of the child development centre such an essential service. “As a parent, you don’t know where to begin,” she says.
Early intervention makes a critical difference for children and families, says Penny. “We know early support makes a huge difference down the road,” she says. Providing intensive help for children and families in the early years gives them the chance to make the most of their abilities.”
Children aren’t the only ones who benefit from early intervention. A dollar spent on intervention saves almost 10 times that much in future costs due to better health and improved earning potential.
For a parent, it’s simpler. “You just want the best future your child can have, where he can have the most independence,” says Daleste. “That’s what we work for. And the child development centre was there for Hayden when it really counted.”
How you can help: Learn more about child development and early intervention in British Columbia at www.bcacdi.org, and how to support the Fort St. John Child Development Centre at www.cdcfsj.ca. The B.C. Association for Child Development and Intervention represents 30 agencies that deliver services to 15,000 children and youth.