Toronto Program for Kids with Special Needs Seeks Funding to Continue


“Priceless” program that gives kids with medical complexities rare chance for socializing and parents much-needed break at risk of ending because of funding woes.

WireService.ca Media Release (06/05/2017) TORONTO, ON – A unique program to give kids with complex medical needs a rare chance to hang out and play together may have taken its last breath this past weekend if a long-term funder can’t be found. The six-week Playdate Program was developed by VHA Home HealthCare (VHA), a not-for-profit organization, and runs out of Scarborough Village Public School. It was created out of a noticeable gap in the system identified by parental caregivers who felt their kids-who have complex medical needs-had few, if any chances to play with other children outside of school because of safety concerns.


“Input from our client and family partners highlighted the need for a play program that gives parents a break, has the medical supervision in place to give moms and dads peace of mind that their kids will be safe, and the programming to create a brilliantly fun day,” notes Caroline Hunter, Regional Manager at VHA Home HealthCare and co-chair of VHA’s Client and Carer Advisory Council. She adds that the initial 2016 pilot program was funded by a one-time, Ideas to Action/Innovation grant from VHA and that feedback from parents was overwhelmingly positive. “Parents LOVED the break and their kids had a blast! We were really fortunate because some media attention and a social media campaign last year helped us raise about $12,000.”

This money raised, along with the remaining funds from the VHA grant, allowed the current spring session to run while the organization applied for other grants to keep the program going. Unfortunately to date, no funding has been secured, leaving the Playdate Program in limbo. “So much work has gone into the development of this program,” says, Alexandra Dunlop, Occupational Therapist and VHA Playdate Program lead. “I’d be so disappointed if we had to say goodbye to it-especially since we know there is an urgent need and we also know from our evaluation, that parents really feel the experience has been magical for their children.”

While the benefits for the kids and parents are “priceless,” the program (which is currently offered free of charge for participants) isn’t inexpensive to run. Parents are only able to comfortably leave their children for three and a half hours because each child is paired with his or her own Personal Support Worker and is supported by an on-site Registered Nurse to address any immediate medical issues. This individualized care, fees for supplies, entertainment and rental costs add up to about $1,500 per child for a six-week session. 

“The need for respite for caregivers is so important, and the cost of this program is such a small price to pay for what the children and their parents get out of it,” notes VHA’s CEO and President, Carol Annett. “These caregivers are really the heart of the health care system, so any chance we can give them to relax and recharge is not only welcome, but necessary to ensure the sustainability of the system. But these programs, while a great once-in-a-while break, need to become mainstays that government (e.g., through Local Health Integration Networks) and other funders are willing to invest in over the long term.”

Tax-deductible donations to VHA Playdate can be made at http://bit.ly/Playdatefunding

About VHA Playdate

Sponsored by VHA Home HealthCare, VHA Playdate is a free six-week Saturday program that aims to give kids, who spend much of their time receiving medical support because of medical complexities, with the chance to do what kids do best-have a blast with music, art and other social and fun activities. While VHA hopes to run more sessions, it is currently trying to secure more funding to do so.

About VHA Home HealthCare

VHA Home HealthCare-a not-for-profit, charity-has helped create possibilities for more independence since 1925. With over 2,500 caring, compassionate professionals supporting clients and families in Ontario we’re proudly:

  • · Accredited with Exemplary Standing by Accreditation Canada.
  • · An RNAO Best Practice Spotlight Organization designate.
  • · A founding member agency of United Way Toronto & York Region

Visit us on Social!

Twitter: @vhacaregiving
Facebook: www.facebook.com/VHAHomeHealthCare

For more information, please contact:

Pamela Stoikopoulos
Sr. Communications & PR Manager
VHA Home HealthCare 416-489-2500 ext. 4344 | pstoik@vha.ca
Cell/text: 416-294-5186

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