County of Brant council members passed a resolution to request that the Government of Ontario grant Stage 1 Planning approval for Lansdowne Children’s Centre to progress through plans for new premises during the council meeting on Tuesday, January 31.
Three representatives spoke to council members on behalf of the Lansdowne Children’s Centre about the growth that the organization has seen and the need for redevelopment
“The evolution itself is a success; we’ve grown with additional services to match the populations’ needs,” said Rita-Marie Hadley, executive director of Lansdowne. “With the growth since being at the current main site in Brantford on Mount Pleasant Street, the more than doubling of on-site staff, we now have 120 on site and we’ve more than tripled the number of kids served annually. That growth has been a positive story of continuing but we’ve gone now to the stage that we have outgrown.”
Hadley handed over the floor to Mike Gatopoulos, a member of the Lansdowne children’s center board of directors, a resident of Mount Pleasant and a parent of a child with special needs to explain what outgrowing means for the organization. Gatopolous’s son Jack was diagnosed with a lifelong genetic disorder when he was one year old. Following the diagnosis, they reached out to Lansdowne to begin a number of therapies but were put on the waitlist due to the demand the organization faces.
“At the time, being on the waiting list was filled with helplessness and hopelessness,” he said. “There are so many families dealing with a life altering diagnosis, not just their child’s life, but theirs as well. Parents in my position are told that early intervention is key and the earlier you get him into therapy, the better his outcome will be. The impact of wanting to do best for your child, trying to do best but having circumstances beyond your control standing in your way is absolutely the most helpless feeling you can have as a parent.”
Gatopoulos said that there are currently 2,300 families on the waiting list to access Lansdowne’s services, and that the number is projected to grow to 13,500 by 2041 without action.
“We can’t have 13,500 families miss that early intervention, we can’t have 13,500 families feeling helpless and hopeless,” he said. “On top of the immediate impact this has on families on the waitlist, the impact doesn’t stop there. The draw for families to Lansdowne reaches far beyond existing residents. Not only is Lansdowne a reason to stay here, it can be a reason to move here. It’ll be our facility that isn’t significantly overcapacity, is a draw for families with special needs children, and has obvious economic impacts on the county.”
Council members also heard from Renee Cochrane, a parent, volunteer, and most recently the family engagement coordinator. In her role, she helps families navigate their journeys by offering assistance while they are on the waitlist by listening to stories and organizing activities.
“It has been very challenging as a planner, because I am very limited to what I can offer these days,” she said. “My programming and when I offer activities and stuff for our families requires the space which we are limited on so I’m always constantly bartering with other staff members for space availability. Plus in order for families to participate, they want to feel safe and leave their kids somewhere so they tend to bring their kids to us for free childcare. It’s a major draw, but that requires double the space that I need to offer my programs. We could do more programs and get kids off the waitlist to do more group activities and things like that as opposed to individual therapy.”
The organization first presented designs to council in 2019, but plans were put on hold through the pandemic.
Council members asked the representatives what timeline they hope to see and the estimated budget for the redevelopment.
“I wish I had more answers for you but we are subject to the Treasury Board of Cabinets and Infrastructure Ontario decisions that affect the timing,” Hadley said. “They have procurement processes that will take a little bit more but it’s meant to ensure that projects come in, on or under budget. So that the first step will be getting stage one approval at the Treasury Board of cabinet which is where we’re looking for some support to leverage that set in place. It can be a three to five year process depending on what delays are faced.”
Council unanimously carried the resolution to request that the Government of Ontario immediately grant Stage 1 Planning approval for Lansdowne to progress through plans for new premises, inclusive of the necessary funding to enable it to move forward with this critical infrastructure.