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Children and families in crisis have a new place to turn in Calgary

The Children Cottage Society's new Child and Family Centre is 35,000 square feet and will provide a wide range of supports and community programming.  (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)
The Children Cottage Society's new Child and Family Centre is 35,000 square feet and will provide a wide range of supports and community programming. (Helen Pike/CBC - image credit)

A new centre for children and families in Calgary opened its doors Wednesday in northwest Calgary, offering services for those facing crisis as well as other community programmes.

A decade in the making, the 35,000 square-foot facility is set to include a safe infant surrender site, allowing parents to anonymously give up a child if they feel they can no longer care for them.

It is fitted with a secure door to the street, as well as a camera that faces the infant and an alarm to alert staff of their arrival.

The Children's Cottage Society (CCS), the organization behind the centre, said it will be the first site of its kind in Calgary and only the fourth in the province.

"We know that given all the new struggles families have to deal with, they need some help, and we wanted it to be easy for them to reach the help they need," said Danielle Ladouceur, the CEO of CCS at Wednesday's grand opening.

While CCS has been in operation in Calgary since 1986, Ladouceur said the new centre will allow them to expand their support to families, and centralize their programming into one space.

A view of the centre's safe infant surrender site, which is fitted with a secure door to the street, as well as a camera that faces the infant and an alarm to alert staff of their arrival.
A view of the centre's safe infant surrender site, which is fitted with a secure door to the street, as well as a camera that faces the infant and an alarm to alert staff of their arrival.

A view of the centre's safe infant surrender site, which is fitted with a secure door to the street, as well as a camera that faces the infant and an alarm to alert staff of their arrival. (Helen Pike/CBC)

"We've had to turn families away year-over-year because we haven't had the room to accommodate them," said Ladouceur.

"Just having…40 per cent more capacity in our crisis nursery means 750 more children that we can serve in the year. Our program spaces [will] allow for 2,000 to 3,000 more children and their families to be served per year. And knowing that the city is growing and the need is increasing, it's very important to have this kind of resource available to the families."

Ladouceur said the new child and family centre will offer a wide range of supports, including meeting families in their homes, offering parenting education and help with children's development, as well as stepping in when families are in crises.

This could entail providing families with a roof over their head if they are faced with a loss of housing or a medical emergency, and supplying clothing and food, said Ladouceur.

The centre's crisis nursery will also deliver 24-hour respite care for children for up to three days at a time.

A ceremony room with special ventilation will allow families and clients to take part in smudges.

The centre's Hope's Cradle, the safe infant surrender site, will not open until April 15, according to a CCS release. Ladouceur said the creation of the site was spurred by an incident that occurred in the nearby Bowness neighbourhood in 2017, when a newborn baby girl was found dead in a dumpster.

"Today marks the beginning of a new chapter in the journey of the Children's Cottage, an organization that's been a beacon of hope for so many families in Calgary for a very long time," said Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek, speaking at the grand opening.

"[This place] is a sanctuary where children can find safety, they can find some warmth, and they can find love. For parents and caregivers who are facing some unforeseen difficulties, it offers a place where they can seek support and find the strength they need to face the challenges that are before them, knowing that their children are being well taken care of."

Ladouceur said the project has a total cost of $25 million, and that the CCS has so far raised $20 million, $3.5 million of which came from the provincial government. The rest of the funds were donated by community members and community foundations, she added.