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Coquitlam will double diversity supports for kids rec camps

More kids need supports to take part in recreation camps: Coquitlam
Coquitlam will have more inclusion-focused leaders for kids in city-run recreation camps. | ferrantraite/E+/Getty Images

Coquitlam will double its number of support staff to help kids with diverse abilities and needs attend city-run recreation camps.

This month, the city’s council-in-committee OK’d a staff request to formalize a 2022 pilot program to make camps more inclusive.

The move aligns with Coquitlam’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) policy — one of four themes in its 2023 Business Plan.

According to a report from Lanny Englund, Coquitlam’s general manager of parks, recreation, culture and facilities, the number of participants who have requested or required help in a recreation camp has doubled year after year, over the past decade, while assistance from external groups such as the Canucks Autism Network, Kinsight and the city’s Recreation Buddies volunteers has decreased.

In response, city staff in 2019 added two inclusion-focused employees to train and help camp leaders.

“While this approach had some successes in developing inclusion skills among camp staff, there was a remaining gap in being able to support those with more complex needs who would benefit from direct engagement,” he wrote.

Last year, the city hired inclusion-focused recreation leaders to work with families to create Recreational Support Plans (RSP), as well as inclusion support leaders to offer one-to-one support for kids with extra needs.

In 2022, the city offered 336 recreation camps — of which one-third of the young participants had diverse characteristics such as:

  • ability
  • culture
  • gender
  • sexual orientation
  • neuro-divergent (autism spectrum, attention deficit disorder, emotional dysregulation)
  • differently abled
  • mental health challenges

A total of 48 camp participants in 92 city-run camps requested or required support to attend; 20 children had RSPs while inclusion support leaders provided one-to-one support to 11 of these kids over 18 weeks of camps.

“Staff identified an additional 20 children who would have benefitted from support, but could not be accommodated within the pilot’s limited resourcing,” Englund wrote, adding eight requests could not be met because the child’s needs exceeded staff’s abilities (helping with the washroom, transferring from a wheelchair, using feeding tubes and requiring enhanced behavioural supports, for example).

Jennifer Keefe, director of community recreation and culture services, told the committee that last year’s pilot program — at a cost $26,000 — created a welcoming and improved environment for all camp participants.

Mayor Richard Stewart congratulated city staff for making city camps accessible and open to all.

“Children’s mental health has not been well-supported and, in fact, we in society are in denial,” he said at the June 12 meeting.