Written by Dave Yanko
Saskatoon single father Brent Caswell was terrified they were going to take his kids away. He had hurt his back so badly that he couldn’t even lift his then one-year-old daughter Sarah, let alone feed and care for her and her four-year-old sister Shirley. “I’m a single dad and I didn’t have anyone to help me out,’’ says Caswell, recalling the 2013 incident. “I was terrified I was going to lose my girls to the system.’’
Then Caswell decided to call Saskatoon Crisis Nursery, recently renamed Haven Kids’ House, to see whether they could help. “The folks there were just so understanding. Like, I just didn’t know what I was going to do.’’ The girls were a little sad and confused when they first arrived at the house, he says, but it didn’t take long for them to become comfortable in their temporary home. Kids’ House staff cared for his daughters for several weeks until Caswell was back on his feet again. “The girls loved the people that worked there because they treated them so well,’’ says Caswell. “I’ve never met a more caring group of individuals. They truly care about what happens to these kids.’’
Haven Kids’ House Program Director Lisa Welter-Mills says there’s a wide array of issues that can result in families requiring the services offered at Kids’ House. Car accidents, injuries at home or on the job, domestic or sexual violence, eviction, homelessness, extreme stress, poverty, postpartum depression, physical illness and mental health crises are among the many situations that can give rise to the need for help. Welter-Mills recalls one family that was facing the prospect of losing a child to illness. “All of sudden this mom receives a phone call telling her that her child has only a matter of hours to live.’’ With such short notice, the woman had no time to try to find someone to look after her healthy children. “We were able to take them in so she could be at the hospital with her dying child.’’ She says some people think Kids’ House is all about uncaring parents but that’s just not true. “Parenting is tough, and using our service is a profound demonstration of the love parents have for their kids. They’ve just found themselves in a situation beyond their control and need some time and help to navigate through it. They keep their kids safe by bringing them to us.’’
Modelled on an innovative nursery program developed in Arizona, Kids’ House was the first nursery of its kind in Canada when it launched about 40 years ago. Haven Kids’ House and Haven Family Support, formerly Parent Aide, are operated by Haven Family Connections (HFC), formerly Saskatoon Society for the Protection of Children. HFC Executive Director Dionne Miazdyck-Shield says the autumn 2020-name change was made to reflect more accurately the organization’s activities, mission and vision. “The names Crisis Nursery and Saskatoon Society for the Protection of Children suggested that we were only protecting children,’’ says Miazdyck-Shield. “The new name better describes our work and our mission, which is to keep families together and reduce the need for Child Protective Services in the lives of these children and their families. We believe that the safest place for children is most often with their family. We’re here to support the success of parents in Saskatoon.’’
The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on operations at the Victoria Avenue house, but not a large one. Management and its board of directors decided early on that Kids’ House is an essential service that must remain open and ready to serve the needs of the community whenever those needs arise. “I have staff here around the clock, awake and ready to respond,’’ says Welter-Mills. “If a child arrives hungry, exhausted or just needs to be cuddled – whenever and whatever their needs – we’re here for them.’’ Due to the additional time and effort required to implement appropriate safety protocols, Kids’ House has reduced to seven from 10 the number of children in its care during the pandemic and no visitors are allowed in the building. So far, says Welter-Mills, all test results for the virus have been negative.
Kids’ House employs a total of 30 full-time and casual staff and operates on an annual budget of $1.2 million. It receives a portion of its funding from government; however, the facility is highly dependent on community support to make ends meet. And Welter-Mills says that support comes in an astonishing variety of ways. Some people drop off clothes and games at the front door, kids have been known to contribute their allowance or money earned from a lemonade stand, seniors regularly deliver colourful homemade quilts that the kids can take home with them when they leave, and individuals and corporations donate much needed cash.
“What makes this place unique and wonderful are the investments and donations of so many,’’ says Welter-Mills. “It’s truly heart-warming that this work is based on the premise that it’s the community’s responsibility to provide a place like this. Really, that’s amazing. It’s beautiful.’’
Haven Kids’ House provides a loving temporary home for children 24 hours a day, 365 days a year if their family is in a time of crisis. K+S Potash Canada is proud to partner with Haven Kids as they continue to support families in need.