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Family relief program reaching out


While raising children can be demanding under normal circumstances, raising physically or developmentally disabled children can take quite a toll on parents.

For 10 years, the Family Relief Program here has been sending out qualified family relief workers to offer those parents periods of respite.

“We have about 54 families that use the program and 42 workers,” co-ordinator Sandy Skirten said.

Last week, 10 family relief workers graduated from a two-day session where they reviewed all aspects of child-rearing--from CPR and child management to the specific needs of disabled children.

“The job of the worker is to go in and care for the child like the child’s parents would care for the child,” said Skirten.

He is hoping to inform all parents of developmentally disabled children across the district about this program, which gives them the opportunity to have someone provide reliable care for their children while they attend appointments, run errands, or even just take a few hours to relax.

“There are perhaps families throughout the district who do not know what we do. It’s important to, on an ongoing basis, inform people what the program’s all about,” Skirten stressed.

“Because there’s so many families in different parts of the district, we try to have workers all over the district,” he added.

The program initially was developed to fill a gap after it was ruled home care was better for disabled children than institutions.

“Back in the 1980s, it was realized that sending children to the institutions was not beneficial for the child,” noted Skirten

When those institutions were closed, the children’s care became the sole responsibility of their parents. As such, the Family Relief Program was set up to fill in the gap between deinstitutionalization and full parental care.

“They’re getting someone who’s a professional. When a worker gets introduced to a family, they come with basic knowledge and understanding,” Skirten explained.

The program, which began in 1990, has since become a model of sorts, and has captured the interest of other communities in Canada and the U.S. A similar program has been set up in Thunder Bay.

The program, initiated by the Ministry of Community and Social Services, is run by Family and Children’s Services and is available for all families of children and youth with a physical or developmental disability under the age of 18 as well as for adults with a developmental disability residing in the family home.

The workers can provide care in the home, at the worker’s home, or can accompany the individual into the community to participate in community events and activities.

“It’s difficult at times to care for any child,” noted Skirten.

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