Nestled in a forested area of the Niagara Escarpment in Milton, Ontario is a home dedicated to the care of children with medical complexities and, in some instances, progressive illnesses. If you drive by it, you may not know that inside the structures on the 77-acre lot is a cutting-edge facility – Ontario’s first paediatric hospice and Canada’s only paediatric organization offering respite, residential and hospice services.
The Darling Home for Kids was founded and designed with the intent that it serves as a “home away from home” for its young residents. For nearly two decades, it has been an integral place of comfort for families in the Milton and surrounding areas. A dedicated team of staff and volunteers work with children to improve their quality of life through essential medical care as well as a variety of therapy – music, pet and hydro and more – and a rural setting that enhances wellness through a connection to nature.
“…it’s important to The Darling Home for Kids to advocate for a better and more wholesome understanding of children who may have a different normal than their peers.” – Sharleen Sun
The Home’s Development Officer, Brittney Black, describes her workplace as “a positive, caring and inviting environment that cares for the whole child and their family’s well-being. We are adaptable to our children and their needs, not the other way around. Our programming is 100% inclusive and can be tailored to the needs of our children and their abilities.”
Staff in Sheridan’s Practical Nursing diploma established a partnership with the Home for one student studying in their final year of the program to complete their mandatory clinical hours. It is the only opportunity of its kind in the program – one that works solely with kids. Sharleen Sun, the Home’s Director of Clinical Services, strongly believes in the value of this arrangement. “We must elevate the awareness level of the community around us,” she says. “One more new nurse impacted by their experience here is one more added to the field of practitioners who can share their knowledge of the day to day experiences of our children and their families.”
Despite having her practicum cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic measures, Practical Nursing student Samantha Petrovic found herself immersed in an experience at the Home in early 2020 that has changed the trajectory of her nursing career. “I definitely want to pursue a position in this field that involves kids,” she says. “When I walked into The Darling Home for Kids for the first time, it didn’t feel at all how I imagined. The walls are painted with butterflies; rooms are personalized and decorated to suit each child and there’s a warmth and energy that makes it a truly positive space.”
On a typical day, Petrovic would assist her preceptor with medical-related responsibilities like changing feeding tubes, helping dispense medication, delivering meals, feeding residents and executing activities for the children that are suited to their interests. “The scope is heightened on this placement because I’m not confined to one floor of a hospital,” she says. “I get to shadow different nurses who take care of a lot of needs for the children and I really got to know the residents and effective ways to communicate with each of them – even if it’s non-verbal. Time flies when I am there. I learn so much each shift and feel really energized when I leave.”
Some of the children live in the Home permanently, while others visit for a weekend or one-night stays. With seven bedrooms, it can accommodate up to 12 children for overnight respite care. There is a large kitchen where children and staff bake together, a fireplace for cozying up to watch a movie and a multi-purpose room for activities, arts and crafts and counselling. Outside is a fire pit for roasting marshmallows, an accessible playground and walking trails. Family members are often visiting too and Petrovic felt a strong sense of gratitude from parents for the work of the staff, making the experience more worthwhile.
Working full-time alongside Petrovic is Jovawn Williams, a 2019 Sheridan Personal Support Worker graduate who also became acquainted with the Home through a student placement. She was a mature student who was inspired to pursue post-secondary education after raising four children and then taking care of her mother who was ill, realizing she was good at it and might be able to help others.
“This is where I’m happy,” says Williams of the Home. “When I was graduating from Sheridan, I emailed my boss and said how much I loved working here and that I’m not leaving!” She plans scavenger hunts for the kids, braids hair, paints nails, gets them dressed and ready for the day and helps with cleaning, feeding and one very important task – snuggling. “It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it!” she says smiling.
When speaking of both Sheridan exports, Sun is impressed. “Our team looked forward to whenever Samantha was in. As she continued with her placement, she became increasingly like a full-fledged member of the team,” she says. “And we love Jovawn! She has been the proverbial perfect fit since the day she arrived as a student,” she says. “She makes our kids feel as special as we know they are,” she says. “She’s a bright ray of sunshine and her positivity and energy are what we’re all about.”
Caring for children with complex and terminal illnesses has its challenging moments, but there’s a shared mentality of the staff at the Home to work as a team to not only support each child so that they feel loved, valued and supported, but to take care of one another. It is an environment where everyone can thrive.
“So often our children are met with fear or pity, so it’s important to The Darling Home for Kids to advocate for a better and more wholesome understanding of children who may have a different normal than their peers,” says Sun. “There is no less joy and no less life being lived!”
Pictured at top of page: The Darling Home for Kids in Milton, Ontario.
Story written by: Keiko Kataoka, Digital Communications Officer at Sheridan.