Ask the expert: How Bear Essentials is a lifeline for families of children with complex needs

Outreach Therapy - Susan Fox - Island Kids First

On May 20, 2021, CEO Veronica Carroll was joined by Susan Fox of Outreach Therapy for episode 2 of “From the heart: Small talk on big subjects”; a conversation about the Foundation’s Bear Essentials program. This blog post complements that episode.

Tell me about the work of Outreach Therapy.

Outreach Therapy is a pediatric nonprofit and our work focuses on providing physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and early childhood mental health. In the last year, our service area has expanded from just the Alberni Valley and the west coast to the entire Port Alberni and Clayoquot regional district.

Bear Essentials is a program accessed through referral only. How does a health care professional apply on behalf of a family who needs program assistance?

The most important step is for therapists to develop a trusting relationship with families. Once that grows, therapists are able to determine a family’s needs and often identify financial gaps that exist for the family. It can be quite emotional for families to talk about the fact that they can’t afford to purchase a piece of equipment that will help their child. Once the need for equipment is identified by therapists, they can then apply on behalf of the family for Bear Essentials funding.

What are some common challenges faced by families who are receiving Bear Essentials assistance?

Families face significant socioeconomic challenges. The area that we serve has one of the highest poverty rates in British Columbia.

Families are often hesitant to say, ‘we can’t afford that’. That’s where having a low-barrier program like Bear Essentials is invaluable. It’s doing so much more than simply providing the equipment to help therapy progress, it protects a family’s dignity as well.

How does Bear Essentials funding impact the therapists or other health care professionals with their clients?

Bear Essentials is very simple to access. This means that therapists can put their time where it belongs, which is supporting children in occupational or physical therapy. When accessing equipment can be such a struggle, Bear Essentials makes it one less thing for therapists to worry about.

From my standpoint, I see how it positively impacts the outlooks of therapists who are doing such hard work. Families accessing the vital equipment they need through Bear Essentials not only supports the families, but it also boosts the working morale of therapists as well.

Are the health care professionals at Outreach Therapy aware of the navigation support to other resources and community support that is provided by Bear Essentials?

My understanding is that Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island’s Program Navigator is a new position, so therapists are still gaining awareness of this resource. I think having her will be huge, because while the internet offers a wealth of information, actually navigating that information can be such a challenge.

Having someone who is dedicated to assisting others navigate the available community resources will make a world of difference. It’s one of the things that makes the Bear Essentials program stand out; it’s a key differentiator. She is about to get busy!

What would you say is the impact of the Bear Essentials program on Island families?

It allows families to purchase the vital equipment they need for their child to make life that much easier. For instance, I can think of a family who really needed oral sensory devices to support their morning routine. They were very simple devices, but the family simply could not afford them; providing food and shelter to their kids is their priority. Since their child didn’t have a particular diagnosis, they struggled to find funding.

Thankfully, the Bear Essentials program saved the day. With the funding, we were able to purchase the oral sensory devices and now their morning routine is much smoother. It has absolutely changed that family’s life.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

The Bear Essentials program is significantly different than anything else we have at our disposal. It continues to make sure that Island families don’t fall through the cracks. It’s been so essential to us to be able to turn to Bear Essentials to make the therapists’ lives easier, but most importantly, the families and children that we serve.

Bear Essentials is a family support program that assists with the costs of health-related travel and equipment for Island kids. The program is designed for families that struggle to afford the associated costs or that have barriers limiting their ability to access health care or equipment for their child.