Darleen lived through a childhood fraught with emotional, physical and sexual abuse. Now that she was raising her own family, she was determined to make a better life for her kids. She found a partner who she thought would help lift her up, but instead, when things got tough, he yelled at their kids and sometimes hit them. The cycle of abuse was repeating.
Three of Darleen’s four children were born premature and suffered from developmental delays. Her daughter Sara experienced “severe, severe delays — she didn’t walk, she didn’t talk.” She didn’t interact much with the rest of the family. Doctors suspected that she suffered from some form of autism.
One of Darleen’s older children had been referred to the EvenStart program by Child and Family Services, so she had Sara assessed at the earliest opportunity. She was accepted, and soon started attending the five-day-a-week, half-day program. She was picked up and delivered home each day on an EvenStart school bus.
Darleen said it was difficult at the start because Sara wasn’t accustomed to other people, and added “she was about the mentality of a one-year-old, so what little speech they could get out of her you couldn’t understand. She mostly communicated in grunts and pointing.”
But she rapidly saw improvement. “Sara did speech therapy, she did occupational therapy, she did play therapy, pretty much everything (EvenStart) had to offer she took part in,” she said. The results were remarkable. “She started to talk, she started to actually interact to some degree with you.”
Sara had been very distant with her siblings. But, after working with the early childhood therapists and teachers at EvenStart, “she started interacting with the other kids at home, she kind of did a 180,” said Darleen.
People started to exist around her,” she added. “Even something as simple as her bringing a toy to you, to engage you, was something she hadn’t done before.”
Sara stayed in the program until Grade One, at which time she was ready to enter a “regular” school, according to Darleen. “She has trouble with transitions, so transitioning to regular school I thought would be a lot harder than it was.”
“They do still figure she is delayed, but I think the difference early intervention has made is huge in her life,” she said. Sara is now in Grade Six, and Darlene reports that “the teacher said that academically, she’s bang on now. She’s caught right up. They still see some emotional regulation issues but they said she’s really come a long way.”
According to Darleen, Sara “loved everything about (EvenStart), the arts and crafts, and she still talks about the teachers she had. She’s got photo albums … with pictures of her teachers throughout the years.”
Darleen is grateful for all the help she and her family received, including the therapeutic work with Sara and home visits from EvenStart staff. “It’s huge, they’ve helped me in so many ways in terms of emotional support and parenting advice. It’s made a huge difference in my kids’ lives. For all of us.”
(Names and identifying information have been changed to protect this family’s confidentiality.)
EvenStart intervenes early in an at-risk child’s life, to give them the chance to enter Grade one on an equal footing with their more fortunate peers. We build their resiliency and coping skills, to better manage their difficult circumstances. Approximately 200 children — and their families — are served by the EvenStart program.
Through a comprehensive three-year educational and therapeutic program our goal is to reverse a child’s developmental delays (cognitive, behavior, speech and language, physical) from an average of 70 to 90 per cent to within 5 per cent of childhood norms.
We teach children some of the skills they need to get by in the world. In the process of fostering emtional health, we provide help with language, social appropriateness, and large and fine motor skills. Individual speech therapy, sensory integration and regulation therapy, and listening therapy are also provided.
Importantly, we also work with families to provide family parenting and resource supports, our ultimate goal being the reversal/elimination of the effects of cyclical poverty on a child’s promise and potential for school and life success.
The EvenStart for Children Foundation of Calgary runs an early intervention program for at-risk children ages three, four and five years. These children are born into hardship, suffering from poverty, trauma, and abuse. They suffer from developmental delays which, if not addressed, will hurt their chances for success in school and in life.
Early Childhood Education
The children are assessed when they enter the program, and started on a multi-year enrollment in an individually case-managed program. Our children have delays in most developmental areas, including speech and language, behaviour, fine and gross motor skills, cognitive abilities and social and emotional challenges.
Working in partnership with the Heartland Agency, they are bussed to one of our facilities, fed two nourishing meals and provided a half-day, centre-based program — focussing on enriching the child’s environment and showing them another “way to be”. We provide needed therapy (speech therapy, physiotherapy, occupational therapy and psychological counselling) and family support.
Parents are encouraged to participate in the program. Even in a very broken family, the relationship has significance.
Parents are employed and receive a wage for their work as “helping hands” and riders on our school buses. They benefit from the modelling that goes on in our day programs and gain work experience.
We also run two groups for our parents: the first group helps with Life Skills and we achieve this through activities such as community kitchens and computer introductions; the second group recognizes that many of the parents of our EvenStart children have experienced the same kinds of early life experiences as their children. The group focuses on interventions that include nutritional and health supports, parenting skills, behaviour management, social connection to address isolation, and well as Life Skills management.
Your generous donation will ensure our programs and services continue to be available to children impacted by trauma, abuse, poverty and neglect. A donation of:
Every year the EvenStart for Children Foundation in partnership with Heartland Agency & Educational Services provides the families of EvenStart children with a Christmas Hamper filled with toys, food, clothing and gift cards. These hampers are made possible by the generous donations of Calgarians such as yourself, who understand the struggle our children and their families experience each year and want to ensure these families can celebrate the beauty of the holiday season as well.
We appreciate your support and dedication to ensuring at risk children receive the support they need to thrive in the future. Thank-you!