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Ontario Connecting More Families with Supports for Children with Special Needs in Niagara

St. Catharines – The Ontario government is creating 22 new SmartStart Hubs across the province, including a new Hub at the Niagara Children’s Centre in St. Catharines, to better connect parents and caregivers with child development services in their communities as early as possible. The new Hubs will be a clear point of entry to services for children and families and bring together local professionals in early intervention and child development services to provide seamless connections to assessments and services such as speech and language services.

“We are delivering on our commitment to make it easier for families across Ontario to find services that their child may need to support their development,” said Dr. Merrilee Fullerton, Minister of Children, Community and Social Services.

“SmartStart Hubs will provide a single point of entry to child development services and will streamline access for families to needs-based supports. When children and families can access services, we know that children’s short and long-term outcomes improve, as do their parents’ well-being.”

“The new SmartStart Hub at the Niagara Children’s Centre will benefit local families here in Niagara,” said Sam Oosterhoff, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Education and MPP for Niagara West.

“The earlier a child can receive treatment, the better the outcome for improved abilities and learning new skills.”

Children’s Treatment Centres across the province will begin implementing the new SmartStart Hubs in April. SmartStart Hubs will serve children and youth from birth until the age of 19, or up to age 21 if they are in school and living in Ontario. By bringing together local professionals in early intervention and child development services, SmartStart Hubs will provide seamless connections to local services including:

  • A clear point of entry to services;
  • A consistent way of delivering services – for example, staff from a SmartStart Hub will talk with each family about their concerns and their child’s and family’s strengths, goals and needs;
  • Streamlined connections to assessments and services, including speech and language pathology services, occupational therapy, and physical therapy so that families feel supported without having to re-tell their story to each new provider;
  • Early access to family-based supports including respite services and parent coaching.

“The evidence for early intervention to support childhood development is overwhelming, and SmartStart Hubs are an important resource to enhance positive childhood outcomes,” said Hon. Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education.

“These Hubs go hand-in-hand with our investments to streamline school-based rehabilitation services by ensuring that there is a continuum of access to resources throughout childhood.”

All 22 Hubs across Ontario are expected to be delivering services to families by the end of this year. Many of the Hubs’ services, including exploratory conversations, may be accessible by phone or video chat for families who cannot easily access their nearest SmartStart Hub.

Families will not need a referral or diagnosis to access SmartStart Hub services and can approach a SmartStart Hub directly or through another service provider in the community, including another children’s service provider, primary health care provider, childcare provider, or school.

SmartStart Hubs will provide services that are inclusive, safe, and welcoming for families of all races and cultures. The Hubs will work with Indigenous partners to deliver culturally appropriate and responsive services to First Nations, Métis and Inuit children and youth.

“Families in Niagara will have a clear place to go when they have concerns about their child’s development. The SmartStart Hubs will provide an enhanced, strengths-based intake experience for families entering the children’s services system,” said Oksana Fisher, Chief Executive Officer of Niagara Children’s Centre.

“In addition to accessing the various services that are available through Niagara Children’s Centre, families may also be connected with other child-serving organizations. We look forward to working with our community partners to create a seamless family experience.”

The SmartStart Hubs initiative is part of the $240 million investment to increase access to more front-line critical rehabilitation services.