Advocating for Children with Complex Care Needs in 2021: A Year to Make Strides in the Developmental Services Sector

When the COVID-19 pandemic put the whole world on pause, Safehaven opened its doors to individuals across numerous sectors, providing individuals and communities with Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) services. With what felt like and still feels like the never-ending rising and falling case numbers, having access to essential supports has never been more important.

Individuals with cerebral palsy, down syndrome, muscular dystrophy, alongside those with other developmental disabilities and complex care needs are already at a disadvantage due to the systemic barriers faced by vulnerable populations in accessing adequate disability and complex care supports. This systemic disadvantage is further highlighted throughout the pandemic as sectors caring for these populations are not receiving the necessary support to provide sufficient and vital care to their clients. But when everything felt bleak and hopeless, Safehaven rose to the challenge, exceeding our mandate to support not only our clients, but the broader Developmental Services sector and community.

So, how did Safehaven achieve these? What strides have we made as a regional not-for-profit organization that uplifted Ontario’s developmental services sector throughout the pandemic? Let’s reflect on the whirlwind of the year that we had and see how Safehaven embodied the saying “it takes a village.”

“It takes a village”

Small and mighty is one way of describing Safehaven. We are a regional not-for-profit organization that offers care and support for individuals with developmental disabilities and complex care needs within the Greater Toronto Area. From Etobicoke to North York to Woodbridge to Aurora and Toronto, Safehaven offers residential and respite care services to children with cerebral palsy, down syndrome, and other developmental disabilities and complex care needs.

For three decades, Safehaven has worked to create an inclusive environment where children and youth with complex care needs can thrive with leading healthcare and recreational, non-institutional programming. Having our residential care and respite care clients take part in activities like their peers on a regular basis is essential. Whether it means attending a hockey or basketball game, singing and dancing at concerts, or even taking part in marathons where their voices can be heard – these activities are accessible for our clients, and Safehaven is looking to create more inclusive and accessible communities around the province.

Protecting Vulnerable Populations Through Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC)

The Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) program at Safehaven has been an ongoing and developing program that has helped numerous agencies across countless sectors like the Indigenous sector, Violence Against Women, Youth and Justice, and more. Across the developmental services sector and the community, Safehaven turned out and provided resources and education to help those at risk.

These practices were put into a place as a means to provide healthcare providers with efficient resources to better the delivery of care to their at-risk clients. Some of these services include:

  • Education: These virtual education modules included topics such as hand hygiene and advanced screening which was created with the intention for healthcare workers to review foundational knowledge; cleaning and disinfecting of physical environments as it allowed for participants to review their knowledge of key principles and terminology relative to cleaning and disinfecting; and isolation precaution and outbreak management where individuals were tested on their knowledge of basic and additional precautions to learn point-of-care assessments.
  • Services:Safehaven offered a number of services such as N95 maskfit testing, outbreak management practices, site infection overview, as well as COVID-19 vaccinations (first and second doses and now third doses/booster shots), rapid antigen testing and swabbing. These services are all essential to ensuring that vulnerable populations and healthcare workers are protected and are knowledgeable in healthcare practices when delivering care to individuals with complex care needs.

Vaccinating the Vulnerable

Since June 2021, Safehaven has hosted three COVID-19 vaccination clinics to help stop the spread and ensure that vulnerable populations are protected. Through these clinics, hundreds have been vaccinated – children with complex care needs, their families, frontline workers, and healthcare workers. The importance of vaccinating those who are immunocompromised and are high-risk like individuals with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, down syndrome, and other complex care needs, has been at the core of Safehaven’s work. Vaccinating these individuals offers additional protection against COVID-19, and ensures that they thrive with the best possible care.

As the system already sets vulnerable populations at a disadvantage, children with complex care needs and developmental disabilities are pushed further on the back burner. Creating a number of opportunities where their caregivers and support system can also be vaccinated has helped us drive our mission of building an inclusive community. This all leads to a key question: what more can we do to ensure that individuals with developmental disabilities have the same chance of fulfilling life much like anyone else?

Achievements of 2021

Throughout all of the work that Safehaven has put in over the past year, children with complex care needs in our residential care and respite care programs are the reason why we do what we do. Taking the initiative, being innovative, and acting as leaders who consistently look for opportunities to grow and do better, Safehaven is being recognized and is making its way to the top as being children and youth with developmental disabilities and complex care needs healthcare provider.

In January, Safehaven was recognized in the 2021 Ontario Budget for our work in providing exceptional care to children with complex care needs, serving as a model for creating integrated transitional care in collaboration with healthcare institutions like Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital. We also partnered with the Ontario Government and BD Canada to create a Rapid Antigen Testing Program where we were able to expand our resources and provide rapid antigen testing to other agencies and sectors.  

In July, Safehaven was awarded the Member Leadership Award by the Ontario Agencies Supporting Individuals with Special Needs (OASIS). This award recognized Safehaven for our innovative work and our role as leaders in the developmental service sector.

In November, Safehaven was a recipient of the Ontario Federation for Cerebral Palsy $100,000 grant. This generous grant will fund and help us expand our Infection Prevention and Control (IPAC) program so we can further digitize it and make it more accessible for English and French speakers. With this grant, we will be able to create a platform where we can share our IPAC resources and provide education and services to agencies and other sectors across the province.

Finally, Safehaven was awarded the 2021 Children’s Healthcare Canada Organizational Leadership Award. Through the ample effort that Safehaven has put into our IPAC program and providing their services, support, and resources to agencies within the developmental services sector and other sectors, Children’s Healthcare Canada recognized our abilities and the impactful work we have done. Partnerships with IPAC Canada, Toronto Public Health, SickKids, and other agencies and organizations, have shown Safehaven’s ability to step up and turn out to protect the most vulnerable.

Looking Towards 2022

As we reflect on the past year and look ahead to 2022, we are confident that our work will continue. Children and youth with developmental disabilities and complex care needs are still people regardless of their abilities, and they should have the same opportunities as those who don’t require the same kind of care. Working alongside our partners, we are going to continue our work in creating opportunities for vulnerable populations to live in communities that offer accessible and affordable housing. Day by day, Safehaven remains committed to breaking down the barriers faced by vulnerable populations in order to build inclusive communities.  

As we move forward with our work in the new year, we aim to continue our partnerships across the community, and we hope to count on your support. Call us at 416.535.8525 or contact us here for more information.