This series profiles the experiences of RECEs as they navigate the pandemic.
We interviewed supervisor Tasha Palmer RECE, of the Etobicoke-based Jean Tweed Child Development Centre, in western Toronto. While the child care centre is shuttered for COVID-19, the larger organization – The Jean Tweed Centre – remains open and is designated an essential service. Tasha describes the unique professional position in which she finds herself.
Q: In what ways has COVID-19 affected your professional role, relationships and practice setting?
A: Today, I’m supporting families virtually, whether it’s over the phone or via teleconference using a service called OTN (Ontario Telemedicine Network).
I’m supporting clients who have children. At the same time, some clients’ children may not be in their physical care. These clients are practising harm-reduction approaches to substance use. A huge part of their safety plan and network are community organizations like child care centres. But clients cannot access our centre, as they normally would. Many of our clients are struggling and trying to access as many virtual services as possible to ensure their own safety and that of their children.
Q: Practice, at this time, is about supporting one another and maintaining our health, as well as the health of our families and communities. How are you feeling?
A: In all honesty I’m a bit stressed. The unknown is a bit scary. It’s hard not to know what to tell families when they ask when they can come to the centre again – I want to give them an answer so badly.
Q: During this time of isolation and uncertainty, what are you finding useful in supporting your physical, mental and emotional health?
A: I’m trying to stay in the present. I’m catching up on things I never had the time to do like organizing cabinets and that elusive ‘junk’ drawer. I’ve also been experimenting with different recipes and having my family taste-test them all.
I make sure I have some ‘alone time’ as well. I think it’s really important to have quiet time to reset my brain and ground myself.
Q: Relationships are central to our profession. How are you maintaining collaborative relationships?
A: It is so critical to maintain relationships. With the RECEs in the child development centre, we connect on a regular basis to discuss projects we’re working on, and also to do personal check-ins. We check in over the phone, through text as well as through Zoom. With my other colleagues at the centre, we have a weekly meeting using OTN to talk about how we’re doing, both personally and professionally.
We’re also trying to maintain any meetings we had booked prior to the crisis. With children and families, I connect with some weekly, others daily. It all depends on their need.
I had pre-service students that were scheduled to start their placement in May. I’m continuing to interview, and once those placements commence, we’ll be working together remotely.
Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve experienced related to building relationships and fostering collaboration in this period of physical distancing?
A: For me, I am finding it harder to engage with the families we work with. A lot of our work is so hands-on that it’s difficult to support them from afar.
Many of the families I work with are used to coming into the centre to see a friendly face, to vent, to get advice, to get tasks done (like faxing, photocopying, printing documents) or to have an adult conversation. It’s so much more difficult now, because I can hear the stress and worry in parents’ voices, and at times, I feel helpless. I’m used to problem solving with them and giving them hands-on materials. It’s just so different.
Q: Can you share something positive about your experience navigating with new modes of communication or practice?
A: The first day I met with a variety of centre staff via OTN, we were all so happy to see each other. We were waving and screaming. The power of connection was so strong! We felt like teenagers with all the giggling and laughing we were doing. Not much work got done on that call … We needed to breathe and see each other’s faces again.
Q: Do you have any final thoughts to share with other RECEs? A: Reach out to friends, colleagues or whomever you need to for support. We’re all experiencing emotions we may have never experienced before, and that’s okay. What’s not okay is experiencing these feelings alone and feeling isolated.