At a recent provincial conference I was reminded that not all communities in B.C. have the kind of cooperation we do here between the organizations serving children and families. Yet here we are, celebrating 20 years of the Chilliwack Child and Youth Committee Annual Consultation. In this space my colleagues, Eryn Wicker and Marie Amos have written about two relatively well know Chilliwackians who have contributed to this collaboration, Dan Bibby and Mayor Sharon Gaetz. Making the adage, “ It takes a community to raise a child” into reality over the long haul of years takes intention turned to action. In this column I’d like to celebrate that commitment seen in the example of Barb Presseau. Barb leads the Chilliwack Community Services unit called Child Care Resource and Referral Program (CCRR). Essentially the CCRR is a broker that links parents with appropriate child care. Barb began this task in 1990, working alone, while today the CCRR has grown to a group of five staff who work with approximately 100 child care providers with spaces for 800 children. That’s the size of some high schools or a huge hospital.
In a recent interview, Barb told me that in 1979 when the International Year of the Child was proclaimed, her own kids were in school and she decided to volunteer some time to the community. One thing led to another and it wasn’t long before she was working at Chilliwack Community Services where she is now its longest serving employee.
For over 15 years Barb volunteered as a parenting class facilitator. She reports it was fun and fulfilling and allowed her to share tips and strategies that helped hundreds of parents be the parents they wanted to be. As all parents know, kids don’t come with manuals so we’ve needed people like Barb to disseminate collected wisdom so parents aren’t re-inventing the wheel with each child.
Aside from priding ourselves in having one of, if not the most well-coordinated long serving Child and Youth Committees in the province, this main committee has also had equally robust sub-committees. Among them is the “Early Years” committee of which Barb has been a key contributor. Members of this committee have briefed themselves in the research evidence that demonstrates that investment early in the lives of children has enormous social and economic benefits throughout their lives. Barb’s response should be no surprise when asked what she saw as one of the biggest challenges facing us. It’s the difficulty many parents have in finding and paying for quality child care. She looks forward to the day when the science we know about early childhood education will be entrenched in practices that use the time from birth to kindergarten as the most important window for education and social emotional development. That will be a time when where you went for child care will be as important as where you went to university.
There is a saying that goes, “Our children are living messages to a time that we will not see.” Thanks to Barb Presseau and the others who volunteer and serve as she does, those messages from our generation to the future are more apt to be wholesome and full of good will.
Dr. Robert Lees, R.Psych is the Community Psychologist for the Ministry of Children and Family Development in Chilliwack.