Note: All names have been changed to maintain anonymity.
On any given day, Haven Kids’ House will have kids under its roof, enjoying the warm atmosphere and welcoming staff. The play and the laughter make it tempting to think that this is a simple day home – perhaps a place that busy parents use regularly, when they go to work. You certainly wouldn’t feel any stress or anxiety from the children themselves, who are kept busy with games and activities in between snack times.
But the truth is that Haven serves a very real, but often overlooked, need in the community. It is here to support families in Saskatoon or those who have come from out of town, who haven’t had time to prepare for childcare in a crisis situation, and who may not have a support network nearby. It’s a place of safety and reliability – and for people like Stephanie, it has changed everything.
Stephanie, her husband, and their four children live about four hours from Saskatoon. While the peaceful prairie air has its benefits, this distance also means that trips to the city – with work, transportation, and accommodations to consider – are big logistical undertakings. One of her sons has ongoing health issues that require frequent specialist visits and even surgeries (4 of them and counting), with her other children needing treatments periodically as well. Each of these trips adds up in travel time, recovery sessions, anxiety, and of course, difficult choices as to who will watch the kids while trying to juggle everything else.
“We don’t have family in the province,” Stephanie says. “We moved from a different province, so that’s not an option. And because the surgeries are so long, we wanted to stay multiple days. We have two friends in the city, but they weren’t available for that length of time.” She recalls desperately trying to find a solution earlier this year, when two of her kids needed their adenoids removed at the same time and would require the full attention of two parents.
“We originally thought we’d try to find a dayhome or a daycare, and we’d pay for a day of childcare. But it would have cost money, and thanks to COVID, things are tight.” Compounding that difficulty is the fact that one of her younger children is developmentally delayed and is prone to acting out when upset; her standards for caretakers are higher. “Kids act out in different ways than adults…getting that extra care and response is so much more welcome.”
Having tried the Ronald McDonald House in the past, Stephanie reached out to the staff there and asked if there were any other options they could recommend. They told her about Haven Kids’ House, and a phone call later, the details were in place. “I got off the phone and I could have cried,” she says, “because I’ve always had to do it all myself.” Learning that there was a place specifically for people in situations like hers was such a relief, and the fact that it was run by professional staff with exceptional social skills training was a bonus. “[At Haven], they’ve seen it all, and they tell you it’s going to be okay. No matter the situation, it’s comforting.” And to top it all off, the kids love it there, too. “Our 7-year-old was kind of upset when he got picked up and had to leave, because he had made friends,” she laughs. “Every time we go back to Saskatoon, he asks about going back to Haven.”
Knowing about Haven has changed Stephanie’s outlook on having to go to the city with her kids. She explains how often she has had to go into specialist waiting rooms with all her kids, waiting for stressful news while trying to keep them entertained; in one instance, where her son was exhibiting serious symptoms of an illness, they were all in the hospital waiting area until 2 AM. “It would have been so nice to drop the other kids off, and know they got supper, and were put to bed.”
But beyond the immediate benefits to the kids are the further-reaching effects on the entire family. “I’ve never gotten to do a surgery with all of us there for support,” Stephanie says. “Even for my husband, he’s never gone through this with our kids.” Between work, childcare costs, and all the other planning, it was never feasible before. But now, “the kids that were there [at Haven] have a place where they genuinely feel loved all day,” and the kids undergoing other treatments get “the benefit of full adult attention when they are very scared.” Her husband has been able to further appreciate what these trips entail, and build up his relationship to the kids. “Being able to be present for this, to be supportive and loving for his kids, where love and trust is formed as our kids want us when they’re sick and hurting…it was special for ‘daddy to be there’ and get that special bond.”
Stephanie is quick to express her gratitude for the entire staff at Haven, the accessibility – “We’re just blown away and so blessed that it was at no cost to us,” she says – but also to the people and organizations that make the program possible. “Funding something like this isn’t necessarily glamorous,” she finishes. “But it makes a huge impact. If I had the opportunity to look them in the face, I’d say ‘Please, keep putting your money here’.”