Robson Valley Community Services (RVCS) held its annual Early Years Fair at the Valemount Elementary School last Wednesday, showcasing the resources available for parents of pre-school-aged children. /ABIGAIL POPPLE

By Abigail Popple, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, RMG

Robson Valley Community Services (RVCS) held its annual Early Years Fair at the Valemount Elementary School last Wednesday, showcasing the resources available for parents of pre-school-aged children.

The fair is a product of a close collaboration between many organizations in the area, said RVCS Supervisor of Child and Family Services Isla Jackman. Representatives from Northern Health, the Valemount Public Library, and the Child Development Centre of Prince George and District (CDC) displayed information about their organization’s services in two rooms at the school. 

“Information is power,” Jackman said of the resources available at the fair. “Once you have knowledge [of resources], you know how to access them.”

Presenters at the fair agreed that awareness of resources is important for parents of early-year children.

“Our services are only offered until the littles go into school,” said Regan Daoust, a physiotherapist at the CDC. “And it’s really hard to find private occupational physiotherapists that work with children specifically. That’s why these fairs are so important for us to attend, because [parents] wouldn’t know otherwise that they have [services] right here.”

Sam Thew, an occupational therapist at the CDC, also said addressing potential concerns about a child’s development before starting school is crucial.

“If we [start therapy] sooner, we’re more able to make changes to ensure that they are meeting their developmental milestones, to set them up for success for kindergarten,” said Thew.

Both Thew and Daoust said parents should schedule an appointment with a therapist if they have concerns about their child’s development. Occupational therapists focus on fine motor and visual motor skills, as well as attention and cognition, Thew said. Physical therapists work on gross motor skills, and a child’s musculoskeletal and neurological systems, said Daoust. 

“Parents can refer for any of the services at the Child Development Centre,” Daoust added. “They don’t need a doctor’s referral […] they could simply go to our website and submit a referral.”

Early intervention is key in dental care as well, said Community Dental Hygienist Frances Leboe. Northern Health offers free oral assessments of children’s teeth, according to her. While these assessments are not a replacement for regular dentist visits, they are a valuable resource so parents can catch cavities or other problems before they develop into more painful and hard-to-treat conditions for children, she added.

Bernita Nesjan, a public health resources nurse, had an array of resources on children’s health and safety – including immunization, feeding small children, and car seat safety, among other topics. Nesjan said parents can make an appointment at the Valemount Health Centre and speak with a public health nurse about any questions they have on child health and safety.

“If there’s other [specialists] that we need to bring in, then it’s really easy to make a referral,” Nesjan added. “When we see them in our regular child immunization clinics, we’ll refer them to the Child Development Centre if they need speech therapy or occupational therapy […] we screen for all of that, as well.”

Kacie Harray, Children’s Programmer at the Valemount Public Library, shared resources on early child literacy with parents. Parents can check out literacy kits from the library, which include fairy tales and other books for small children to read with their parents, Harray said.

The library also offers hand puppets, DVDs, and LeapFrog Learn to Read systems, Harray added.

This year is the first time the fair has been held at the school, according to Jackman. She values the partnership between RVCS and the school as it makes hosting events like the Early Years Fair more affordable for organizers, and more accessible for parents in the community.

“One of the biggest assets of rural small towns is if these kinds of people can all have a good, healthy, communicative relationship,” said Jackman. “And that’s something we’ve got here.”