Family Place Community Parenting Centre: Great Beginnings Program
The Great Beginnings Program is a free program offering parents opportunity for peer support, along with a chance to gain knowledge of child growth and development and to discover the magic of creative/sensory art, as well as a love of literacy. It includes a light and nutritious lunch for families to share.
Quite a few years ago the health nurses ran a Healthy Babies program in the local community. JoAnne used to be involved with that program through her role with Community Parenting, and used to visit with the mums. The health nurses were concerned that vulnerable mums needed continued care once they were no longer able to access the public health program when their babies were 6 months old.
Together with the lead of the public health program, Anita Peters, JoAnne worked to develop the Great Beginnings program, which goes from pre-natal right up to the child entering Kindergarten. It is run weekly on a different day than Healthy Babies program, so that vulnerable families can access two supportive programs in a week.
Programs at Family Place are supportive of all families, which means that the families from Great Beginnings are also able a wider range of programming for their families. The criteria to attend Family Place are minimal. They must be Maple Ridge or Pitt Meadows residents and the parents must have a child 0-5 to attend. Families often have their own reasons why they need extra support, and are not always comfortable in articulating those reasons. For example, low-income families get to enjoy eating a meal with their child in an unstressed situation, and without worrying about the cost of providing a meal once a week.
Common issues for families include isolation, unhealthy family supports, food security, new immigrants, and significant transportation issues (availability and cost) in the Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows areas. Housing affordability means families often move out of Vancouver to outlying communities when they start their family, so are new to the community.
Family Place offers drop-in programs four mornings a week:
- Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday: Parent & Tot Sing and Play drop-in for parents, grandparents or legal guardians and their children aged newborn to school entry.
- Wednesday: Great Beginnings program.
Great Beginnings is the busiest program at Family Place, and includes a lunch. Family Place is 0-5 and Great Beginnings has pre-natal to 5. Family Place is open Mon-Thurs. with different morning drop-in programs. Every day there is a healthy snack, and on Wed there is the Great Beginnings lunch. Family Place is open to parents, grandparents and legal guardians with children under 5. Families who attend can look as though they are coping fine, but once trust is developed over a few months, they sometimes open up with concerns or family issues, so zero judgments! Family Place is designed as a place of acceptance. Staff role model that attitude, and let families know the staff are glad when parents feel comfortable enough to talk about concerns, and are happy to direct them to the support services they need to help their family.
The limited number of available spaces and food for the Great Beginnings program, and only two program staff to run the program, mean they do have to limit the numbers. The program runs on a first come, first serve basis. They often have 30-35 people sitting down for lunch; the 2 staff prepare all the food as well as running the program.
Parents from the program volunteer to help with setting up arts and crafts. Also, because parents have recognized how much work is involved in running the program, there are 5 or so parents who regularly volunteer to do the recycling and cleanup after the lunch, giving the program staff the opportunity to care for the babies. They also have a practicum student this term, which is a great help. Parents with older pre-school-aged children can bring those children with them to the program.
Public Health is welcome to drop in informally to Great Beginnings, as well as their scheduled visits, to meet informally with parents and share a meal. They do weighing or bring info on healthy nutrition and eating challenges. Public Health makes scheduled visits about once a month, and other community agencies and professionals, such as dental professionals and visits from a local optometrist about eye health, bring services to the program, which helps parents who struggle with transport for accessing local resources. Maple Ridge/Pitt Meadows area catches heavy rainfall as the clouds hit the mountains, heavier even than Vancouver, and the winter months are dark and very wet.
Families who have graduated from the program will occasionally drop in to say hello. It is lovely to have the feedback about the difference that early support made to them and how it made them feel like they belonged. A mum a few years ago used to come to Family Place regularly, but then life moved on, her kids were in school, and she was working part-time. She came back to visit when she was going through a challenging time, as she needed to access a place where she felt safe and talk to someone she trusted.
The program acts as a gateway for other Family Place programs, which then connect parents to wider community programs. Community Parenting is an amalgamated program with Family Place. JoAnne is also the coordinator for Community Parenting. She receives referrals for parents from Public Health, MCFD, or doctors, and she recommends other programs at Family Place or in the community for families.
Sometimes families are part of the program for many years, as they bring 3 or 4 children through the program. The older pre-school children in a family can also attend the program with the parent and baby. The program staff keeps a binder with community info about programs and free family events in the community for parents to access and makes recommendations to parents about pre-Kindergarten checks ready to start school.
JoAnne and Helena also do an annual special event Christmas open house for families, where every child gets a gift from Santa. It is a tremendous amount of work, and they are exhausted afterwards, but they love doing it as it feels so special for the families, and really enhances the sense of community celebrating together.
JoAnne has been connected with Family Place since 2001 and Helena since 2003. They have worked together in various settings through Family Place and are now in their fifth year working together as a team with the Great Beginnings program.