Thirty years of collaboration, connections and conversations have served to guide the foundation, essence and innovation that is Children’s Inclusion Support Services. Most importantly, the success of this service is due to the community trust, willingness to embrace inclusion and view that all children belong.
At the recent Supervisor meeting someone said they could not imagine their program without the support of CISS, and I agree, but I do remember when CISS did not exist. As Educators we just did what we could. We read what was available (typically not much) asked questions of the parents and hoped that our interactions were supportive but never quite confident that we were doing all we could. Sometimes the ask felt like more than could be successful without support; I am sure some children were not included but could have been.
So why was CISS established? Following a 1989 program review of the Ottawa and District Association for the Mentally Retarded Preschool Support Program (ODAMR) AFCS Board members Dr. Ann Croll (who was a psychologist from the Ottawa Separate School Board) and Helen Brown, (who had worked with Ann) along with Rosemary Somers, AFCS Executive Director, floated the idea of integrating children with special needs, with extra support, into “regular” child-care programs. As a result of their efforts, the Children’s Integration Support Services (CISS) was established – a service for both the francophone and the anglophone communities.
The initial guiding principles, formed after a community review, were visionary at the time and moved the child-care community away from a segregated model where pre-school children diagnosed with special needs had to travel long distances to find the support they required in designated segregated or integrated programs – these principles from more than 30 years ago, still resonate today:
- All children have special needs at certain times.
- Supports must be available throughout the system to ensure that children have access to them as required.
- The nursery staff should be provided with the support and resources necessary to respond to the needs of children, thereby enabling them to reach their optimum level of development.
- Parents must be recognized as the primary and long-term case managers who should be involved as equal partners in decisions affecting their child.
- An integrated system is required which is flexible, responsive, and able to fulfill the needs of all pre-school children and their families.
By July 1991, more funding was diverted as segregated programs closed and was used to implement and expand the CISS model. Two additional, well-known names joined Suzanne Dugas (Director 1990-1995) to form the team. Susan Spence (Intake and Resource Coordinator – 1991 – 2019), who was seconded from the Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton, and Moira D’Aoust (Supervisor, 1991-1995 & Director, 1995 – 2017). One of my favourite stories from those early days is on their first day, they arrived to find an empty office with two phones sitting on the floor. The instant they walked into the room, the phones began to ring. They exchanged a knowing glance, picked up a phone each, and set to work. In its first year of operation, CISS supported 45 children, but by 2002 when Sylvie Tourigny (Supervisor 2002 – 2016) the program had grown and today, on average CISS supports 240 children 0-6 years of age and 59 licensed School Age programs with a focus on program-wide inclusion.
Another important decision made early on, was to assist children from six weeks to ten years of age, thereby ensuring seamless support for families and their children. The growth, breadth and depth of services offered over the years has been amazing, all in response to feedback and ideas shared from community partners and parents. The team approach has always been the difference maker along with Moira’s mantra – “What is positive and possible?” I know that the CISS team members have consistently invested heart and soul into their delivery of service and when I speak to community members I hear over and over again just what a difference their support has made. CISS is known across the province for its exemplary approach and willingness to share – this was foundational from the beginning and continues today, imprinted as the core of CISS. There has never been a lack of good ideas or will to implement them, but unfortunately frustrating barriers do exist but with the persistence of the team and the community, progress is being made every day as we continue to commit to knowing ALL children belong.
Kim Hiscott, RECE
Andrew Fleck Children’s Services