Comox Valley Aboriginal Head Start Program: Friday’s Child
Supporting Families and Reducing the Stigma of FASD
Aboriginal Head Start Coordinator and Friday's Child creator, Terry Louden, sat down with us a few weeks ago to tell us more about this innovative approach to supporting children and families with FASD. Currently in its ninth year, Friday’s Child is a program for children 0-6 with or without a formal FASD diagnosis. Using a family and child strengths based approach, families accompany the child and activities are scheduled to encourage learning for the children and support of the caregivers. Activities themselves are influenced by feedback from the caregivers and the needs of the children. Funding for Friday’s Child is provided by The Ministry of Children and Family Development.
4 Building Blocks
The program has 4 central building blocks or tenants – trust, acceptance, respect and confidentiality.
Each family entering the program is required to make at least a 5 week commitment to the program. This commitment helps to support the building of relationships between the staff team and the family. Because of the often changing needs of children living with FASD, families frequently remain in the program once the 5 weeks are over.
The program encourages consistency within the child’s home by inviting all line-in family members to the program. By learning together, they are in a better position to support the child in a consistent manner. The staff team also works with any preschool or daycare providers within the child’s regular routine to ensure that the messaging is followed through within the care environment. Some of the tips shared with caregivers and care providers include following a strict routine, warnings for time transitions, no loud noises, reduced bright colours and setting the space up in a way to minimize distractions like shutting doors to extra rooms.
When the program first opened its doors 9 years ago, staff couldn’t advertise it as an FASD program. At that time the issue was too sensitive within the community and not something openly talked about. Staff would, and continue to, conduct home and 1:1 visits in order to recruit families. Terry has noticed 3 waves of families in the program over the years. When it first opened, staff began working with grandparents raising their grandchildren. The second wave included parents with a wide range of different needs and the third and current wave is parents who have been diagnosed with FASD themselves.
Over time, the stigma associated with FASD has been worn away and the community now openly talks about FASD. In fact, an FASD Community Network has been established and is comprised of parents and community agencies working together to ensure that children with FASD are seen as capable and are given every opportunity to succeed.
A Typical Day
The Friday’s Child program is held in the Aboriginal Head Start space in Comox Valley. Routine is very important for children with FASD and the program is structured in a way that takes this into consideration. The program bus will pick up families in need of transportation and bring them to the centre in time for the opening social time. This 10-15 minutes allows families time to catch up with each other and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea. Next, the caregivers begin their circle or sharing time while the children have a snack. Using a talking feather, caregivers are able to share within the group. After snack time, the children join the circle and are also able to share what’s on their mind.
At the conclusion of circle time the children leave to either play outside or join an activity with the Early Childhood Education (ECE) staff. At this point, the caregivers take part in a wide range of activities including cultural activities like drumming and art or workshops on topics including child development, nutrition, kindergarten readiness, sleeping/toileting etc. The little ones are able to join the adult group at any time and many activities reflect feedback from the parents/caregivers.
Before lunch, the families work together on a family project. This provides the parents with an opportunity to see how their child is learning and activities are often based around cultural crafts. Staff make a point of using very ordinary and readily available materials for these crafts so that families may continue the crafts at home. Finally, the entire group sits down to enjoy a healthy meal together.
The primary goal of program staff is to support both parents and caregivers in the care of the child living with an FASD diagnosis. Staff are clear to point out that parents or caregivers are responsible for their children during the program. The staff are there to support and guide them and may step in to give the caregivers a break, but are not there to replace them in their authority. Terry reflects that many parents of children with FASD are self conscious about their parenting techniques. By providing them with a deeper understanding of what’s going on for their child, staff help parents to change their techniques so that the behaviours exhibited by their children are minimized.
In 2011, Program Coordinator Terry Louden won the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Early Childhood Education. She regularly does presentations on the Friday’s Child program and has developed a number of resources she is happy to share. Please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
If you find yourself in the Courtenay area on Saturday, September 8th, please join Comox Valley AHS and the Friday’s Child program in celebrating International FASD Awareness Day in Sims Park between 10am and 3pm. Admission is free!