When Gillian Viljoen thinks about her work with Matthew’s House she counts her blessings: the blessings of families, children and staff.
Gillian (pictured above with Wendy, the manager of Matthew’s House) is the chief program officer at Communitas Supportive Care Society, the organization that operates Matthew’s House. She first became involved here when it was time to build the home and develop the unique program for children with complex care needs. That meant thinking about systems and criteria, and surveying families from across BC to determine the number of children who might be able to access this resource. It also meant looking at marketing, meeting with health professionals and determining how Matthew’s House would serve a multicultural community. As the home was being built, Gillian also the opportunity to be part of the team that looked at details like furnishings, colour schemes and lighting.
Matthew’s House opened its doors on November 23rd, 2013 and has been welcoming families for four years. Gillian reflects on the work that went into establishing the program and how the team at Matthew’s House has been able to learn and adapt.
“Initially we thought that we would be serving more children with medically complex needs,” she says. “We certainly do that but we’ve also had to adapt to the great need that there is to offer respite to families whose children live with a variety of behavioural needs.”
Staff receive training to ensure that they better understand the needs of children with autism and other behavioural challenges. Support plans and strategies have been developed to ensure that respite stays are successful and children are happy. When she looks back at how the systems that she initially developed have been refined, she is proud of the quality of the work of her staff.
“The blessing for me has been to see the difference Matthew’s House has made in the lives of families,” she says. “It’s been wonderful to get to know some of the children and to see how happy they are to visit there.”
When she visits Matthew’s House for meetings, she has the opportunity to observe staff interacting with children. She is moved by the genuine care that staff provide and how they support families.
“It’s great to see the staff laughing and enjoying the children, playing games in the midst of all the hard work and celebrating the wins,” she says.
One of the things she has come to really appreciate is how difficult it is for parents to bring their children to Matthew’s House. She’s seen the deep emotions they experience: guilt, anxiety, fear, loss of control. Because their children are so vulnerable, their concern is understandable. Gillian knows that it is important for parents to feel at ease leaving their children in the care of staff. The parent’s room, included in the building of the home, ensures that parents can be part of training the staff on how to care for their child
“We consider it a privilege to be able to love and care for their child so that families have the peace of mind necessary for their own renewed energy and emotional well-being,” she says. “I am grateful for a staff team that works hard at learning from families and building trust. It really is a blessing.”