A tribute to Susan Spence, Intake Coordinator (retiring December 2019)
Susan started her career as an Early Childhood Educator in Northern Ontario and later received her Early Childhood Resource Teacher Certificate as part of the first graduating class.
Susan’s career moved into different roles when she moved to Ottawa in the 1980s. First as an Educator at Thursday’s Child Nursery School (TCNS), then with an ODAMR specialized Preschool. From there, Susan moved to Elsie Stapleford Day Care Centre which was operated by the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton (RMOC). This program was one of the 15 programs in the City that was given the designation on their license to integrate children with special needs. This step launched her into her next role as the Coordinator of the Integrated Preschool Program for the RMOC. Susan worked to set up networking opportunities as well as resource support for all of the center-based Resource Teachers. Under that role, Susan was responsible for training opportunities and the creation of a Resource Library for the Resource Teachers.
Through her work with the Community Preschool Review Committee, Susan was a key informant for the ODAMR Review where she was able to identify that inclusion, at that time, was very limited for families because of long waitlists.
The committee’s vision was to create a seamless, flexible and responsive system of support for children, their family and the child care community in which all children with special needs were welcomed.
Following the Community Review for the Integrated Preschool Programs and the review of the segregated nursery school programs which were operated by the ODAMR, Andrew Fleck Child Care Services (AFCCS) was approached to take on the development of a new integrated model for the City of Ottawa licensed child care system.
Susan was a big part of the shift away from a medical model to a community based one. This shift identified the parents/guardians as the primary case managers which allowed them to access supports for themselves and the child care setting of their choice. In her various roles within CISS, Susan has worked to support the inclusion movement to look at possibilities rather than focusing on only the disability.
Susan was seconded to AFCCS to support the development of a new system. She brought with her knowledge as well as a strong belief and commitment to the community vision that was the outcome of the two community reviews. Susan also brought the resource library which was one of her passions and continues to be used to this day.
Susan was the primary contact at AFCCS for parents/guardians as they began their pathway towards accessing inclusion in child care programs. Many trailblazing hours went in to outreach to parents and the child care community to explain the new possibilities.
Susan has always known that inclusion is a process and that needs change. At intake, she was responsive to those changing needs. She supported new team members to develop a clear understanding of the different pathways and resources that were available.
A passionate advocate for all children, Susan consistently represented the special needs perspective at any table or discussion she was involved in. Her message was clear; plan to meet the needs of all children. Susan was actively involved as a working member of the Child & Youth Health Networks for several committees including Respite for Parents/Guardians as well as several pilots to support Medically Fragile Children in an inclusive setting which successfully demonstrated that with the right support inclusion was possible for every child.
Susan contributed to the development of several protocols as the landscape continued to shift with funding injections as well as funding cuts. This approach helped to ensure that parents did not have to repeat their story and provide the effective transfer of knowledge at key transition points for the child and family.
Innovative resource development was an important part in meeting the needs of parents, children and the teaching teams in the early years sector. Susan was instrumental in the creation of a series of Disability Doll Kits to introduce an early childhood educator to a particular disability. What a success story! Educators were supported in building their own confidence as their knowledge was expanded and how to answer children’s questions. As in-services and workshops were developed, Susan would link the training with resources in the CISS library.
Susan has been one of the cornerstones for CISS who helped build our foundation. As a cautious trailblazer, Susan would always ask questions, work collaboratively towards positive outcomes, facilitate discussions with integrity coupled with strong mentoring and advocacy skills. Susan would naturally, through her ongoing intake role, advocate for the parents and guardians voice. Each year parents would identify that their initial connection with Susan and CISS Intake was their first experience of being asked about their child’s strengths and interests. Susan sees children as children first. She ensured that the information gathered at intake was well documented and readily shared with the Resource Consultant.
Susan took on new opportunities throughout her career one of which included mentoring a Masters of Social Work Student from Carleton University which proved to have wonderful outcomes for both Susan and her student. Susan stepped up for many years as the CUPE representative for multiple negotiations and the AFCCS job evaluation process. Another opportunity unfolded when TCNS came under the umbrella of AFCCS. Susan supported parents directly at the point of intake to make them aware of the process and what was available to them.
Susan sees herself as a life long learner and readily learned to facilitate the Circle of Friends, Maps and Paths approach. This was used to problem solve in reducing social isolation and supporting community child care programs.
Susan’s ability to support each program to “Dare to Dream” and create their vision for the future was valued. Susan took the time to observe the programs and to have conversations about where they saw the need for change. Change can be difficult so Susan always had a trick up her sleeve to make it fun and safe for each person to express themselves throughout the journey. Susan was successful in helping teams build a cooperative and collaborative spirit to support moving forward with their vision.
They say that if you want something done give it to a busy person. For those of you who have had the opportunity to connect and work with Susan, you know she is always on. She listens intently and will provide resources and examples if she thinks it will help. Her convictions, strong beliefs and values regarding the rights and needs of children and families are always at the heart of discussions.
Susan is a process oriented, diligent, reflective thinker. With each change or development at CISS, she had an eye on the possible ripple effect to ensure success and positive outcomes. Susan has been a “Difference Maker” who did not seek the limelight and worked hard behind the scenes to effect change for all the right reasons.
Our wish for you Susan, is that you follow your “North Star” as you move into your next chapter and look back at what has been achieved with pride as well as a sense of joy and accomplishment for a job well done.
Former CISS Manager
The last few years of Susan’s career have continued on the same course with the added twist of a new manager. Sue has proven herself as a pillar of CISS by providing history, information and thought-provoking conversations. She has readily adapted to many changes including the new paperless filing system, with success. Re-purposing unused books from a nursery school to create story kits is one of her many and most recent contributions to the CISS library.
One of Sue’s greatest strengths is patiently listening… to parents, to programs and to colleagues. She listens carefully and asks the most insightful questions. It is an understatement to say that many of the CISS team members and community partners will feel there is something missing in 2020 as Susan moves on to her well-deserved retirement.
Tara Matte, RECE