Main Street Communty Services helps some very special children
by Barbara Bottriell
Photo Courtesy of Main Street Community Services:
Shelley-Anne Steinberg, executive director of Main Street Community Services with Brittney Fitzpatrick
Shelley-Anne Steinberg always knew she wanted to work with people. That’s why she went to Carleton University to study social work as well as law and criminology. But she didn’t expect to end up running one of the largest private social services agencies in North America. And that’s what her agency, known as Main Street Community Services, has become.
The agency has about 40 full-time staff and it adds approximately 30 more part-time people when it runs its camps during the summer. In 2010, staff worked with approximately 250 families in various capacities over the year.
Main Street Community Services is about kids — but not just any kids. It’s kids with developmental disabilities and they often have behavioural and communication difficulties that makes it very hard for the families in which they live, to function well. “Burnout is the trigger that often brings
parents to us” says Shelley-Anne. “By the time they come to us, the families are usually very tired.”
What Main Street offers is an individual program for every child they agree to work with. At the same time, they also work with the family so that parents can learn how to better handle their child while the child is being counselled, taught and mentored. And they offer respite care so families can have a chance to recover from the constant drain on their emotions and energy that a highneeds child creates.
Some examples of children the agency has worked with are a young girl, age 11, who weighed 74 pounds, couldn’t talk when she came to them and was living full-time at CHEO. Today she is 16 and she’s walking and talking. Another example is Justin, who was physically and verbally aggressive and virtually unable to function in normal situations. The agency’s first client was a 12-year old with non-verbal autism and Pica (obsession with eating inanimate objects). “She was too old for subsidized daycare,” says Shelley-Anne “and she was the most gorgeous, beautiful child I’d ever seen.”
Main Street Community Services is a full-service agency and offers a variety of different programs to their clients. Some of the short-term programs they offer are Social Skills Enrichment Training, Anger Management Training, Teen Esteem, Stress Management, and Problem Solving Skills Training. Their summer day camps are also very popular. Once a child has been assessed and accepted by the agency, they might take part in only one program or a multitude of them.
Main Street also offers six Respite Residences. In these cases, the agency and the family will have decided that a break from living at home will be beneficial for both children and parents. Kids can live in a respite home for up to a year, but there are also weekend arrangements. The respite residence is designed to feel as close as possible to living in a family home. There are no more than four kids living in a home at a time and there is one supervisor and two staff who live there all the time.
Shelley-Anne’s philosophy, and indeed that of the agency, is that the family is absolutely vital to a child’s mental and physical health and so the child is treated as a member of a loving family while living in the respite home. There is a routine for morning and evening and each child has one or several jobs to help with around the dinner hour.
Children who are staying in respite homes go to school if they are able, or go to the Main Street Community Services location to work on their developmental goals. Academics, physical fitness, communication skills, life skills and other subjects are part of their day. Here is a typical reaction of a parent who felt that Main Street’s therapeutic approach rescued them when they most needed it:
“Every waking hour we were consumed with our son’s volatile behaviours. We felt verbally and emotionally abused and our home was a toxic war
zone,” says the child’s mother. A year after entering the program, the child was reintegrated into his family home. “Upon his return,” she says, “we saw so many measurable improvements. He continues to take part in all the programs, including the summer camp, the after-school program and weekend respite. If I were to put video footage and a daily journal documenting the boy he was a couple of years ago next to the teenager he is today, you would not recognize them as the same person. We have our family back….”
Support of the families is part of the approach at Main Street. Every family and child is different, maintains Shelley-Anne.
“We offer parent support when the family is ready,” she says. “We may have parents observe how the workers work with the children and sometimes offer teaching of parenting skills. We also offer a 24-hour on-call service if there is a crisis and a parent needs some support or even emergency respite, if necessary.”
Individual and family counselling is part of the treatment offered at Main Street. So is mentoring. Kids have the opportunity to spend time with a
highly qualified, trained and experienced mentor who can help them learn how to build healthy relationships. One of the programs offered is called Social Skills Enrichment Training and it’s for children ages four to 14. In small groups they learn about understanding and expressing feelings, conflict resolution and problem solving. The Behaviour Management program assists children and adolescents who show non-compliant, defiant, oppositional, stubborn or socially hostile behaviour. Individual programs are designed to help parents in managing and developing greater competence in dealing with the children’s behavioural problems.
Most parents would probably say they’d love a program like that, but it’s well to remember that many of the clients at Main Street are very high needs children with complex disorders; some may have a brain injury, or Asperger Syndrome, where you have normal or high intelligence but poor social skills, odd speech patterns, obsessions, and physical clumsiness. Some children who are clients can’t stand a lot of sensory stimulation and many find it difficult to manage in a regular school classroom.
These are the children and parents who are all part of Shelley-Anne Steinberg’s extended family. Helping them is her life’s work and the challenges of special needs children seem to energize her rather than discourage her. Her staff appears to be equally enthusiastic and they’ve just come off a Gala fundraising dinner called “Nothing but a Child” at which they raised over $16,000 for Main Street Services.
The agency was incorporated in 2006 and is a designated charity with a Board of Directors. It does not receive core government funding, although some parents are funded by the Ministry of Social Services. It depends primarily on fee for service, fundraising and donations. So far all is going well and although there have been requests to set up a similar agency in the east end, Shelley-Anne says she will be staying in Stittsville, in the west end, where the agency has been located since its inception. Managing from a distance is not what she wants to do.
Programs at Main Street Community Services
• Individual and Family Counselling
• Respite Residences
• Mentoring for Children and Youth
• Social Skills Enrichment Training
• Parenting Support Programs
• Anger Management Training
• Teen Talk
• Teen Esteem
• Problem Solving Skills Training
• Stress Management
• Behaviour Management
• Developmental Respite
• Social Skills Day Camp
• Developmental Playgroup
Main Street Community Services
1453 Main Street, Box 432
Stittsville, ON K2S 1A6