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Vital People: New Indigenous daycare will focus on childhood trauma, mental health

Construction is underway on what is believed to be the Island’s first Indigenous-specific trauma-informed daycare centre.
Kendra Gage, executive director of the Hulitan Family and Community Services Society, which will operate the daycare when it opens in Colwood. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

A First Nations-led social services organization is celebrating as construction gets underway on what is believed to be Vancouver Island’s first Indigenous-specific trauma-informed daycare centre.

The Hulitan Family and Community Services Society, which advocates for Indigenous families in the region, will operate the daycare, located in Colwood. They expect the building to be finished by June 2024, with the intention of welcoming its first students in September.

There will be 48 spaces available, with 24 spaces for infants and toddlers and 24 for children ages three to five. There will also be 25 after-school care spots.

What will set the new child-care facility apart are staff trained to watch children for behaviours and emotional triggers that may be indicative of past or current trauma. The facility will also have a “bear den” — a time-out room for children

The new early years centre will also address child mental health care.

“Mental health is not just an Aboriginal problem, it is a mainstream problem. To tackle the issue, the centre will have larger spaces, a higher staff-to-children ratio and a therapist on staff,” said Kendra Gage, executive director of the Hulitan Family and Community Services Society.

“We will have robust wrap-around programs in place that will give children a sense of belonging and ensure they know they are loved.”

The one-storey, 6,000-square-foot building will sit on a 13,000-sq.-ft. lot that was formerly a field at the Colwood Elementary School. The Sooke School District will retain ownership of the land.

The Ministry of Education and Child Care is responsible for the construction of the building, budgeted at $5.1 million.

The society, which will be responsible for the maintenance of the property and the operating costs of the the child-care centre, has received a renewable 15-year lease on the land and building for $1 a year.

Gage said with no rent to consider, the society can focus on offering child care, which will be offered for free or at a very low cost to Aboriginal families. Depending on demand, non-Aboriginal children could also be accepted.

The Indigenous-led centre will have an elder/knowledge keeper on hand. The intention is that the centre will be able to provide support, assistance and guidance to the caregivers of children who are struggling.

“Complex trauma may be intergenerational and layered and we need a place for healing with the appropriate cultural practices,” Gage said.

Apart from collaborating with partners to acquire and fund the construction, the society was given the opportunity to work with architects to customize the space to its needs as well as to manage the project.

With construction costs at $623 per square foot, Gage said that they had to cut out a number of desired features, such as traditional welcoming poles at the entrance. Another is the landscaping, which Gage described as “bare bones.”

The eventual hope is to grow their own food, using cedar boxes for a vegetable garden and native plants and fruit trees. The outdoor space can also serve as a classroom to support cultural teaching.

United Way Southern Vancouver Island has launched a $625,000 fundraising campaign to furnish the building, from furniture and books to toys and other items that support a cultural connection and a connection to the land, along with school readiness and early literacy.

The project has taken eight years to get to this stage.

“It has been a long journey. But without the trust and collaboration of partners along the way, it never would have happened,” Gage said.

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