YWCA Hamilton’s Family Access Centre helps keeps families connected

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Since the pandemic hit, staying connected to our families has become even more important – especially for families navigating court-supervised visits during Covid-19.

Here at YWCA Hamilton, we are celebrating the International Day of Families – a United Nations initiative marked every year on May 15 to celebrate the importance of families around the world – by highlighting one of our programs that helps keep families connected through supervised visitation, even during the pandemic.

YWCA Hamilton’s Family Access Centre is a safe space for families who have court orders or agreements between children and their non-custodial parents. At the Family Access Centre, non-custodial parents and their children can spend time together in a neutral environment, facilitated through supervision by trained YWCA Hamilton staff.

Normally, these visits take place in-person – but when the Covid-19 pandemic hit last year, the Family Access Centre Team had to come up with new ways to move the program online. That’s why Daniella Bozur, the manager of YWCA Hamilton’s Family Access Centre, created a new plan for families who rely on supervised visitation to see each other.

“We had to very quickly pivot and figure out how to adapt,” Daniella said. “We started from scratch because this was brand-new territory for us.”

The online visits always follow the same protocol: a YWCA staff member checks in with the visiting parent five minutes prior to the meeting to ensure that they are alone, in an appropriate mindset, and in a suitable setting for the visit. They are also asked to scan the space with their computer to ensure no one else is in the room. That same process is also repeated with the child before the two are connected. The entire visit is supervised by two YWCA Hamilton staff to ensure someone is always available to monitor the meeting.

Daniella says these new protocols, which were adopted by the provincial Ministry of the Attorney General and are now being used across Ontario, have been a huge success. In the last year, the program has arranged for 204 virtual visits, 11 telephone access calls, and has made 173 exchanges of electronic correspondence.

“We’ve seen so much resiliency and adaptability,” she said. “We’ve seen virtual hugs and virtual kisses, and seen children actually hug the screen.” Daniella says her team have also worked hard to keep the visits fresh and new throughout the year. Instead of our in-person snack program – funded by Intact Insurance, The Hamilton Community Foundation and Voortmans – families have been provided with Uber Eats gift cards to enjoy a meal together with their visits, and over Christmas, families received a grocery gift card. However, Daniella also points out that while the Family Access Centre provides a crucial service for families in the Hamilton area, it is chronically underfunded. The centre gets $178,000 in provincial funding each year – an amount that hasn’t changed since 2008. As a result, the wait list for the service can stretch anywhere from 18 months to two years.

Daniella says the province did grant one-time funding of $33,400 to the Family Access Centre this year to help cover costs. However, Daniella points out that these one-time funding injections aren’t a sustainable solution.

“It needs to be built into the budget – one-time funding is never going to be a suitable solution for us, especially if we never know if we’re getting it, and when,” she said.

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