BRANTFORD, ON - Seeing Minister Michael Parsa walk the hallways of Lansdowne Children’s Centre in Brantford on June 13th was an invigorating moment for board member Mike DeBruyn, who recently completed a 10-year term on the volunteer board of directors.
Seeing a photo of himself and the minister on the big screen at the children’s treatment centre’s annual general meeting in June, the former school principal remarked,
“I was sharing with Minister Parsa that my hair was not so white when we first started talks of a new building for Lansdowne.”
A representative of Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill, MPP Michael Parsa was named the next Minister of Children, Community and Social Services (MCCSS) on March 27, 2023, after MPP Merrilee Fullerton (Ottawa-Carleton) resigned on March 24.
In his role on the board of directors DeBruyn was Capital Steering Committee Chair, overseeing an initiative for expansion of Lansdowne Children's Centre in Brantford, an effort that has so far been a decade in the making.
In the 10 years prior to the appointment of Minister Parsa, Lansdowne Children’s Centre has been engaging the office of the MCCSS in pursuit of Stage 1 Planning Approval to explore opportunities for construction of a new Lansdowne Children’s Centre facility in Brantford.
Incorporated in 1974, Lansdowne Children’s Centre connects parents and caregivers with services, resources and support for infants, children and youth with communication, developmental and/or physical needs. Lansdowne provides assessment, treatment and group programs from locations in Brantford, Simcoe, Caledonia and Dunnville, and also has staff working in the community, in schools and in childcare centres.
Population growth in the region has added significant pressure to the support system, with only 1 in 4 children receiving services at Lansdowne within the clinical standard. Some wait as long as 3 years, missing critical windows for intervention.
The need for a Lansdowne capital project is built on stark realities about service accessibility at the 39 Mount Pleasant location. The land-locked property offers no opportunity to expand parking or facilities, and the cinder block building is not fit to expand vertically. Since moving into the site in 1998, Lansdowne has experienced a 550% increase in service demand, and a 100% increase in staff.
Executive Director Rita-Marie Hadley has been tireless in her effort to advocate for Lansdowne client families, sharing the details of Lansdowne’s need for new capacity with officials at municipal, provincial and even federal offices.
“Our staff are exceptional at getting the most out of the resources we have available, but it’s asking a lot, and it’s still not enough."
"Our team is constantly sharing space, changing over rooms for different treatments or programs. We don’t have dedicated space available for equipment, so we lose time in constant setup, tear down and outside storage. We need to see more families to keep pace with the demands in our community, and to do that we need more space for treatment rooms, services and resources.”
The clock is ticking for Lansdowne, whose latest projection revealed that upwards of 13,500 families of children with special needs could be on a waitlist by 2041. Client parent and board member Mike Gatopoulos has experienced the purgatory of a waitlist, and passionately advocates for Lansdowne to get ahead of the challenge and help families.
Speaking to councillors of the County of Brant in January 2023, Gataopoulos shared, “The impact of wanting to do best for your child, trying to do your best but having circumstances beyond your control stand in your way is absolutely the most helpless feeling you can have as a parent. Right now, over 2,400 families are sitting in that position."
"We cannot let that number grow and have 13,500 families missing the early intervention window.”
Collaboration with MCCSS has resulted in approval to move the process forward. The Minister’s site visit, part of a provincial tour of similar facilities, spurred excitement among the sub-committee of board members and volunteers working to bring solutions to waiting client families in Brantford, Brant, Norfolk and Haldimand counties.
The Minister’s visit to Brantford was in response to an invitation from local Brantford-Brant MPP Will Bouma who has been a vocal advocate for Lansdowne client families at Queen’s Park. Minister Parsa’s tour of the 39 Mount Pleasant Street facility was an opportunity to see in-person the challenges that Lansdowne faces with aging infrastructure and limited space. Bouma attended the Lansdowne annual general meeting on June 21 to share appreciation for the staff, praise for the contributions that Lansdowne brings to the community, and provide hope for solutions on the horizon.
Speaking to the assembly at the meeting, that included Lansdowne staff, volunteers, families and representatives of community partners, MPP Bouma shared,
“Working regularly with Rita-Marie, I think we have a path forward now, in how we can make a capital project help..."
Community members can offer their support for the expansion of Lansdowne Children’s Centre by going online to lansdownecentre.ca/forthekids and adding their name to a letter of support that will be delivered to the office of Hon. Minister Michael Parsa in September.
More photos from Minister Parsa's tour of Lansdowne with MPP Brantford-Brant Will Bouma.