Kid­safe needs $180K to con­tinue op­er­a­tions

Fam­ily of eight quar­an­tined with baby among those re­ceiv­ing as­sis­tance

Vancouver Sun - - CITY - GERRY BELLETT gbel­lett@gmail.com van­sunkids­fund.ca

If nor­mal time now seems like a dream, pan­demic time is a liv­ing night­mare for Quincey Kirscher.

As the ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Kid­safe Pro­ject So­ci­ety, she has the fate of some of the most vul­ner­a­ble chil­dren in Van­cou­ver in her hands and she’s fright­ened.

“I’m wor­ried sick about them,” she said.

The pan­demic lock­down has caused ob­vi­ous con­cern for the wel­fare of women liv­ing in abu­sive re­la­tion­ships. But while an adult can go to a shel­ter for safety, a child can’t.

In nor­mal time, Kid­safe pro­vided pro­grams for 475 el­e­men­tary school­child­ren deemed to be at risk if left alone at home. The or­ga­ni­za­tion op­er­ated in nine schools dur­ing the spring, sum­mer and win­ter hol­i­days.

Kid­safe would teach kids how to swim, pro­vide art classes, games, sports, and older kids would be taught such things as how to babysit or pro­vide first aid.

“It was to en­rich their lives and keep them safe,” said Kirscher.

But since the pan­demic struck, all schools across the prov­ince are closed.

How­ever, con­cern for the safety of these chil­dren has led the Van­cou­ver school board to open two schools so Kid­safe can pro­vide sanc­tu­ary for them dur­ing the pan­demic.

Forty chil­dren — 20 in each school — are now be­ing cared for at Cun­ning­ham El­e­men­tary on East 37th Av­enue and Grand­view El­e­men­tary on Wood­land Drive from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. each week­day.

“The pan­demic has forced us to drill down and pro­vide crit­i­cal sup­port for chil­dren. We need to keep our kids safe and fam­i­lies fed and healthy,” said Kirscher.

So Kid­safe now has an out­reach to get fam­i­lies through the pan­demic. Staff pro­vide grab-and-go food parcels for fam­i­lies each day at the schools and are de­liv­er­ing food to those un­able to come in. Last week, food was de­liv­ered to 60 fam­i­lies.

“We are talk­ing to them, ask­ing if they have enough to eat, how’s it go­ing? We don’t want them to feel cut off,” she said.

“We have one fam­ily — six chil­dren and two adults — and the baby has a fever so they are all in quar­an­tine, liv­ing in a small apart­ment and they had no gro­ceries. We sent them a big bag and will con­tinue to do this.”

Kirscher doesn’t want any­one to get the wrong im­pres­sion about the chil­dren en­rolled in the pro­gram.

“We have many chil­dren who can’t be left at home be­cause they are young and their par­ent or par­ents are work­ing. There are sin­gle moms work­ing as cashiers or at the chicken plant or are out clean­ing.

We have par­ents work­ing two or three jobs just to keep their heads above wa­ter,” she said.

But some chil­dren are liv­ing in homes where there is poverty, or abuse, or men­tal ill­ness or ad­dic­tion and ne­glect and the pan­demic lock­down — trap­ping par­ents and chil­dren in a small space — has the po­ten­tial to cre­ate a pow­der keg.

“Some kids can’t be left at home. When you have a lot of peo­ple in a small space, it’s hard on ev­ery­one spend­ing time in a locked house,” said Kirscher.

“In some cases there is the po­ten­tial for do­mes­tic vi­o­lence or for kids see­ing things they wouldn’t nor­mally see be­cause now they are home dur­ing the day. There are many dif­fer­ent rea­sons for these kids be­ing at risk.”

Kirscher said her staff were act­ing quickly to defuse fam­ily ten­sion. In one case, there was a risk of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence be­cause the house­hold was out of toi­let pa­per and gro­ceries and the pres­sure in­side the home was build­ing.

“It was stress re­lated, not hav­ing ac­cess to what they need, but we got it for them,” she said. “I strug­gle try­ing to imag­ine my­self in their po­si­tion. Right now we are try­ing to just keep them alive, lit­er­ally.

“We want to make sure our fam­i­lies have food and ac­cess to ba­sic ne­ces­si­ties. We need to have eyes on the kids so we will know if any­one is go­ing into cri­sis.”

It’s ob­vi­ously not only fam­i­lies feel­ing stressed.

“Yes, it’s keep­ing me awake at night,” Kirscher ad­mit­ted. “Usu­ally that’s when I do my best think­ing about Kid­safe, but now it’s turned to fear. I’m very, very wor­ried about a tragedy — that we’ll see some bad sit­u­a­tions be­fore this is all over.

“Our team is fo­cused on how we can pre­vent that and pro­tect our kids. But it’s re­ally hard be­cause we can’t do ev­ery­thing for them and some of them are fac­ing all this by them­selves.”

At this point, she’s speak­ing through tears.

“I’m sorry, it takes a lot for me to crack.”

Kid­safe des­per­ately needs $180,000 to keep op­er­at­ing through the pan­demic and to ex­pand its pro­gram. It has asked The Van­cou­ver Sun’s Adopt-a-school COVID-19 cam­paign for as­sis­tance.

“I know these kids and their fam­i­lies and I’m wor­ried sick. Our chil­dren are won­der­ful, in­ter­est­ing hu­man be­ings, unique, lit­tle in­di­vid­u­als and they de­serve to have ev­ery­thing they need,” said Kirscher.

“To think of them hav­ing to face this on top of ev­ery­thing else they face in their lives is re­ally hard. I just want to hug them, but there’s no hug­ging in COVID.”

JA­SON PAYNE

Kid­safe ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor Quincey Kirscher, left, and vice-chair­woman Krystyna Niziolek visit Grand­view el­e­men­tary school, where 20 chil­dren are be­ing cared for from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. each week­day.

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