COLD LAKE - As the doors of Cold Lake Family Connections opened to the public for the first time, there were tears of joy in the eyes of not only staff, but also parents.
"The moment we had people through the door, we had people in tears telling us how much of a struggle it has been having given birth during the pandemic and not having family or a close circle of friends in the area, having spouses that work away, and not knowing how to make friends or how to connect to other moms and dads that have new babies or smaller toddlers,” recalled Kim Schmidtz, manager for Cold Lake and District FCSS.
She continued, “People seem to be grateful for the opportunity to get out and have something constructive to do and to be able to connect with our staff about questions and concerns."
Whether they had questions surrounding development, health and nutrition, or accessing local supports, the staff at the centre had the answers.
"The conversations we’re having with people are to do with anything that impacts the health of adult relationships or the health of the children or the quality of the relationships between the parents and the children,” Schmidtz described.
According to Schmidtz, Cold Lake Family Connections, formerly known as Cold Lake Parent Link, was offering some of their services during the pandemic, just in a COVID-conscious way.
Schmidtz explained, “For 15 months we were providing the services under our new Family Resource Network model, but we had to do that virtually or by appointment. We were still accepting referrals from some of our partner organizations that work with infants, children, youth, and families, and we were still doing Ages and Stages screening, and that sort of thing, to link people to other community resources that support families with early childhood development."
Once health restrictions were lifted July 1, they got to work opening the centre.
Schmidtz estimates that 200 parents and their children came through their doors. The next week, 237 visited the centre.
“Honestly, it has been really touching for staff, I think, as much as people have needed supports and somewhere to be and people to connect to, we too have realized just how much it is we missed having people in-person,” said Schmidtz.
What they do
Cold Lake Family Connections operates under the Lakeland Family Resource Network, and offers free programming to children zero to six-years-old and their families.
“It’s about developing children’s social, physical, emotional, cognitive, spiritual wellbeing. It’s about building their parent’s or caregiver’s capacity, so it’s building their skills and knowledge about early childhood development, and how sensitive young growing brains are to adverse events and how trauma can impact the development of a forming brain,” detailed Schmidtz, adding they connect parents to additional resources that may not be provided through their services.
There are also opportunities for those aged seven to 18.
“I would say all of our programs, regardless of age, I would just emphasize that it’s emotions recognition with the older ones, the ability to self-regulate one’s emotions stems from recognizing what emotion it is we’re feeling in our body,” Schmidtz said.
They provide information on nutrition, healthy sleep patterns, and relationship skills.
“I would say at all ages, the overall goal of this umbrella framework is preventing children from going into care and making sure if parents are struggling with parenting or children or youth behaviours, that there are interventions or supports at the earliest possible time to ensure very simply, that we catch things early, to put things in place, before people become overwhelmed and behaviours develop into patterns,” outlined Schmidtz. “It’s skill building and supports."
When to visit
The centre is open Monday to Saturday, and has scheduled programming throughout the month.
Families visiting Cold Lake Family Connections may notice a stop light outside of the door, which Schmidtz explained is to prevent overcrowding, something that would often happen under their former title as Parent Link.
“When we get between 70 and 100 people in that size of space, what we’re doing in there is crowd control - we’re not making meaningful connections with children or their parents. We’re not here for crowd control, we’re here for providing opportunities to connect and build skills,” she noted. “That occurs best when there’s a reasonable number of people in that size of a space."
She continued, “Some of the behaviours even the children were exhibiting in that high traffic, high volume environment, it just tends to escalate. You have children who are overwhelmed and then exhibiting some not-so-wonderful behaviours like screaming, hitting, biting, that can stem from just being overwhelmed."
The centre felt their fresh start as Cold Lake Family Connections was the perfect opportunity to implement a new system, which controls the number of visitors they have at any given time.
The traffic light, which is visible to parents in the parking lot or driving by the facility, is a clear indication whether there is space for more people or not.
“When the red light is on, that means we’re at capacity for a reasonable number of people that we can maintain a safe control of that environment and ensure people who are coming are going to be able to enjoy the experience and the space without feeling it’s just chaotic in there,” Schmidtz explained. “We support parents and caregivers who have a very developed set of skills in terms of parenting, and we also support parents and caregivers that struggling. We often support parents who are having supervised visits with children who are in care. We want that.”
Regardless of a family's situation or background, there is room for them at Cold Lake Family Connections, Schmidtz expressed.
“It’s nonjudgemental, caring, and supportive. Period.”