Hi, my name is Elpida and I’d like to share my story with you.

When you have a baby, your mind takes you on a journey. Immediately you start to think about what your child’s life has in store for them and how you, as a parent, can help to ensure that your children have every opportunity in life.

In January 2018, my husband and I along with our daughter, Olympia, who was 4 at the time, welcomed our twins Dimitri and Marissa to the world. Our small family of three, instantly became a big family of five. Having twins was a challenge on its own, but we were so excited to be growing our family, that we took this new adventure in our stride.

We watched as Dimitri and Marissa grew together, but as they are twins, we soon realised that Dimitri was not achieving his developmental milestones quite as quickly as Marissa. Wanting to help our son we started seeking support services and made an appointment to see a Developmental Paediatrician. In October 2019, Dimitri was diagnosed as having a Global Developmental Delay (GDD) and so began our visits to Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists and Speech Pathologists, all in an effort to help Dimitri work towards his developmental milestones. My mind began to race, what would his life be like? How could I help to ensure my son was able to achieve his goals and be a happy little boy?  

After a year of therapies, Dimitri was making some progress, however we knew that with the twins soon turning 3, it was time to start looking for a childcare centre. We knew that with Dimitri’s special needs we required a service that was able to provide some targeted early intervention for Dimitri but was also able to provide the inclusion we wanted so Marissa was also able to attend the same centre. Luckily, we already knew about St Anthony’s Family Care and as it turned out, they had just opened their fabulous new purpose-built Early Learning Centre, Figtree.

Any parent gets a little nervous about sending their children to childcare but knowing that Dimitri had low muscle tone, delayed speech and experienced strong separation anxiety, this made me worry just a little bit more. I first met with Teresa, the Service Manager at Figtree in late 2020 and we decided to start the enrolment in February 2021.

Prior to the twins commencing, we attended a number of orientation sessions. While in the past Dimitri had been very nervous about being just a few metres away from me, I was delighted to see that when we walked into the outdoor play space of Figtree, Dimitri was enthralled by the Figtree Jungle. He was so excited to be exploring the water features, sand pit and animals that he soon forgot that I was even there. My son was playing independently and was focused on discovering what wonders were to be found in the Figtree outdoor play space. These orientation sessions helped fill me with great comfort and joy and I was now sure that I had found the right place for my children.

Ten weeks later and we have all been able to see the change in Dimitri and it has been amazing. He confidently walks into Figtree each morning and is so warmly welcomed by the staff that I feel Figtree has become an extension of our home. When I say goodbye to my son, I hear … ‘goodbye mummy’, words I had never heard before. The team of therapists who work with Dimitri have also noticed a huge difference over the last months and we are now all confidently looking forward to a bright future for our family. We are so happy to be part of Figtree Early Learning Centre and the St Anthony’s Family Care community and look forward to what new and wonderful things await.   

– Elpida

St Anthony’s commitment to supporting children with disabilities to participate at Figtree is only possible due to the support of our donors and benefactors. The cost of the additional staff required to meet the individual needs of children is met through your generous contributions and we thank you for your ongoing support.

Teresa Petrone
Manager, Early Learning Service

St Anthony’s Disability Services provide a range of individual, group and accommodation services for children and young adults with disabilities. We support participants with a range of moderate to complex support needs to enjoy various experiences and participate in community life. It brings the staff at St Anthony’s great joy to be part of a young person’s life as they achieve individual goals and milestones.

With COVID this year, it again bought home the significance of support which St Anthony’s Disability Services provide. The year 2021 has not been like any other, and as we celebrated the International Day for People with Disabilities on 3 December, the meaning and importance continued to resonate with us more than ever.

In June this year, we began facing another wave and new strain of COVID; our operational team were quick to maintain engagement with our participants and their families. From previous experience, we knew that focusing on our mission of supporting children and young adults would ensure that we were able to respond to individual and family needs, and we quickly connected from our new “home offices” to focus on our participants and staff members’ well-being during this time of change.

From a perspective of “essential service” needs, we looked at how we could best continue to operate services and support those in greatest need whilst minimising all potential risks. Services were adapted from community settings to in-home care to reduce person to person contact, and we created small teams which we called “bubbles” to reduce exposure when close contacts arose and to assist us with contact tracing.

As the government guidelines changed frequently, our ability to navigate flexible and adaptive services would soon become our strength. Assessing risk became a core focus with a need to protect participants and their support workers alike. As the days rolled into weeks, and then months, the challenges continued, and we saw many acts of kindness and outcomes for which we are grateful and hold close.

Overall, the disruption to everyone’s life, health, and mental well-being this year was immeasurable, and the impacts will be felt for years to come. The added complexity for families with a child or person with a disability added further pressures for many. Through this constantly, and rapidly challenging year, safety remained paramount, and we ensured that we offered transparency in our approach to both staff and support workers.

“The disruption to everyone’s life, health and mental well-being, as a result of the ongoing COVID19 pandemic is immeasurable and as a society we will be revealing, investigating and counting the cost for years to come. The added complexity of COVID when you have a child with a disability, or indeed any person with a disability, makes our full and already completely bonkers life even more chaotic.  We rely heavily on the support and unconditional love that our son receives by the staff (both management and support workers) at SAFC. During this constantly, and rapidly, evolving time SAFC staff have been outstanding in their communication with us and have been as accommodating as possible to ensure that we have continued service.  This has never been at the expense of our safety, or that of our beloved son or SAFC staff. Thank you for your adaptability and understanding. Our decision to use SAFC as a service provider in 2014 is one that we have never regretted”.