PALMERSTON – Wellington County’s newest EarlyON Child and Family Centre was officially opened here Nov. 19.
“This is a is a great facility, and it’s going to add a lot to this community,” said Wellington County councillor and social services committee chair Dave Anderson at the grand opening held at the centre, which is located at 215 William Street in Palmerston.
The William Street building previously housed a childcare centre, operated by the county prior to the opening of a county childcare centre beside the Palmerston Public School in 2018.
“The local families are very excited,” said Anderson, noting the facility will be opening its doors for 30 hours of programming per week at the beginning of January.
Town of Minto Mayor George Bridge said EarlyON Child and Family Centres offer “a safe and welcoming environment, open to families with young children where they can make connections, find support and advice about parenting and child development, access resources and a network of community supports and specialized services.
“The centres provide a place where parents and caregivers of children have access to information, workshops and links to other resources based on their individual needs. It is also a place for families, caregivers and children to connect with others in their community,” Bridge added.
The physical opening of the Palmerston centre has been delayed by the pandemic, although online and alternative programming has been available, as it has in centres throughout the county.
The county began managing EarlyOn Centres in 2018 when the Ministry of Education integrated its child and family programs under the EarlyON umbrella. At the time centres were operating only in CentreWellington and Wellington North. With the opening of the Palmerston facility, there are now EarlyON Centres in every Wellington County municipality except for Puslinch, where residents are close enough to access facilities in Guelph, Anderson explained.
“EarlyON programs and services are incredibly important for all communities as they provide programs, services and resources for all families, caregivers, and children to promote the best possible start in their life,” Anderson continued.
“I want to thank the County of Wellington and also the Government of Ontario for supporting this new center and its programs. It will help families and caregivers with young children in our community,” said Perth-Wellington MPP Randy Pettapiece. “This site in Palmerston will provide better access to programs for families and children. It’s great to see this happening in rural and small town Ontario,” Pettapiece added.
“Everyone knows how important it is for young children to have the best supports that they can get,” said Luisa Artuso, director of Wellington County’s Early Years division.
“They rely on their families, they rely on their educators, they rely on their communities. They don’t know any different than what we offer them, so it’s up to us to be there for them and give them what they need,” Artuso continued.
Artuso noted the county has been steadily advancing early years services into the rural area in recent years despite a lack of new funding.
“Since 2018, we received no additional funding, yet, we expanded the number of services. It was our goal that all families receive equitable supports, that’s extremely important. It shouldn’t be just where you live, if you happen to have a high population that those children get the services and the ones that have a lower population do not. That’s just not right. So when we took on this portfolio we were adamant that every single municipality would have an EarlyON Centre and every municipality will have licensed childcare, because those are proven to support families and to support a better society, and the wellbeing of those societies as well as economic viability of those communities,” Artuso stated.
Since retrofitting the former child care facility into an EarlyON Centre, Artuso said the county has been approached by KidsAbility about providing additional services.
“We have children in the Town of Minto that are having a really difficult time (getting to) or they’re missing therapeutic appointments because parents can’t get to Guelph or to Centre Wellington. So they’re going to be using this center, as soon as possible, to deliver occupational therapy, speech therapy and physical therapy to children in this community,” she explained.
A new program developed for children with autism will also be brought to the Palmerston site through a partnership with KidsAbility and St. Joseph’s Health Centre, Artuso added.
Ron McKinnon, executive director for the Community Resources Centre of North and Centre Wellington stressed the type of experiences EarlyON Centres provide for children will be important to them later in life.
“A great deal of learning is done between the ages of zero and six. This learning provides a base or a foundation for that child to build on. And the better the base, the better the outcomes later on in life,” said McKinnon.
“Some of today’s issues in our communities, such as mental health issues and poverty issues, the answers to some of those problems are in those ages from zero to six, where we can build resiliency and children learn how to cope and get along with others and learn how to centre themselves and make good sound decisions,” he added.
For information on accessing programs through local EarlyON Centres go to the Children’s Early Years Division section of the county website at wellington.ca.