A small group of kids sit around a table, decorating sheets of paper with pink, red, purple and white heart stickers. They range in age from one to two years old, so the concept of Valentine’s Day hasn’t sunk in. However, they seem to be enjoying the heart-shaped foam pieces they’re given to use, and one boy really seems to like eating glue, despite being told not to.
In another room, the three to four year olds are also doing Valentine’s crafts, some sticking tissue paper and glitter to hearts and others sticking rhinestones onto cardboard frames.
One and two-year-old children doing Valentine-themed crafts at the Queen Street Child Care Centre
They’re all in the Queen Street Child Care Centre, also known as the daycare located in CAMH’s community centre. It’s operated by George Brown College and used as a lab school for George Brown students in the Early Childhood program, who do rotations there. The children range in age from nine months to four years, with 49 kids in total.
It’s quite unusual for a daycare to be located at a mental health and addictions facility, but the centre has been onsite since 1989.
Colette Kane is the manager of the centre and has been for a decade. “I think it gives the staff, students and the children an inclusive environment, that everyone is seen as an equal no matter what the disability and it opens up opportunities for communication with the older children and families on how to support the community within the community.”
Colette remembers one day when a father showed up at her office. He had brought his son through the community centre and passed a CAMH client who was sitting in the hallway, banging his head. When the dad instinctively drew his son closer to him, his son said “it’s ok Daddy, he’s just upset, and when I get upset I cry. And when he gets upset he bangs his head.” The father was in tears recalling the story. “My son taught me a lesson about acceptance,” Colette remembers him saying. “It blew us all away, this lesson about how to see people in a different light.”
“So it’s things like that that reward what we do with the children here. That everyone is an equal. We talk to them about how people are sad for whatever reason. We acknowledge them, we don’t ever shy away from anybody with the children.”
The kids get a reaction from clients, too. “Some of [the clients] squeal because they’re so excited. Others are a little taken aback,” says Colette.
Three and four-year-old children doing Valentine’s-themed crafts at the Queen Street Child Care Centre
In fact, the children have become a popular sighting throughout CAMH. During Halloween, they trick-or-treat in different areas, dressed in full costume. When there are musical performances in the community centre, the children go to listen, sometimes dancing along. And the older children even participate in an Intergenerational Program, where they interact with CAMH clients who are in the Geriatric Admission Unit. Every couple of weeks, these vastly different generations come together to work on some crafts, do some cooking or do a bit of reading together in order to learn to interact with others who have differing abilities and characteristics, share experiences and develop empathy.
And parents who choose to enroll their children at the Queen Street Child Care Centre are supportive of the inclusive activities. “People outside of the walls want their children to be part of the community as a whole,” says Colette.
“I think it really supports their social skills, and I think it supports the whole cognition piece of acceptance and empathy as well as language, because we’re talking about what we’re seeing, who we’re seeing and why they’re feeling that way and it comes back to them trying to talk about themselves.”
“And it’s taking away from those stereotypical thoughts of CAMH.”
Meet some of the kids from the Queen Street Child Care Centre
With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, we asked some questions to kids at the Queen Street Child Care Centre.
Daniel, age 3
What are you doing? “I’m making a picture.”
Do you like daycare? “Yes.”
Do you like being with your friends? “Yes.”
Miles, age 3
What are you doing? “I’m making a monkey for my mommy and daddy.” (Editor’s note: he was making a heart)
Do you have a special person that you love? “My gramp.”
Roxy, age 3
(Unprompted) “I’m making something for my mommy and daddy too.”
Do you have someone special that you love? “Umm...my mom.”
Kai, age 2
Who do you love? “Charlotte.”
Who’s Charlotte? “Ummm...I don’t know.” (Editor’s note: the daycare teacher said Charlotte is a friend of his)
Dryden, age 3
Do you have someone special that you love? “Mommy and daddy and Jordan too.” (Editor’s note: Jordan is his sister).
(After getting his photo taken) “Mommy have a camera too.”