Leeds and Grenville EarlyON Pop-Up Play Program

The United Counties of Leeds and Grenville's Collaborative EarlyON-Social Housing Summer Pop-Up Play Program

By Mattea Steacy

July 2023


The United Counties of Leeds and Grenville is a two-tier highly rural municipality encompassing ten lower-tier municipalities, two towns and one city. Leeds and Grenville offers a broad array of living and working options, from large, farm-dense rural townships that have seen generations of families, to larger, suburban centres with many options for work existing within the manufacturing, transportation, health care, and education sectors.

Like most other CMSMs and DSSABs, Leeds and Grenville delivers the area’s Social Housing program which houses close to seven hundred low-income tenants, some of them being families with young children. The United Counties of Leeds and Grenville also directly operates EarlyON Child and Family Centre (CFC) programs in the community.

While many CMSMs opt to use provincial funding to contract a third-party to deliver their EarlyON programming, Leeds and Grenville’s EarlyON programs are delivered as a branch of the Children’s Services Department within the greater Community and Social Services Division, the same division that delivers the Social Housing program and Ontario Works (OW). Years ago, the idea came about for a Pop-up Play program dedicated to the families that were living in some of the Social Housing units. This program would prove to require a collaborative effort between the staff of the EarlyON CFC and Housing Department. 

The Program, Variations and Uptake

The Summer Housing EarlyON Program operates as a Pop-Up Play program, which consists of several play stations set up in an inviting way for children and families to engage with. For example, one Pop-Up Play may include a table for sensory experiences like painting, plasticine, or sensory bins, an area with gross motor play materials like balance beams and balls, and a picnic blanket on the ground with books, scarves, and pillows for those who enjoy calmer play. A light lunch is also provided for families during the program. 

The program requires at least one staff from each team to collaborate and plan - one Resource Consultant from the EarlyON team and one Case Manager from the Social Housing team. Once both teams have decided who will be working together on the program for the summer, staff from the two Departments work collaboratively to plan specifics including location of the program, activities, food, etc.

Typically, the Pop-Up visits occur at a Social Housing apartment building within walking distance of the family units in either the Town of Prescott or the City of Brockville, where many buildings with family units exist in Leeds and Grenville. The program visits generally once per month for the months of July and August. Several variations on the program have been attempted, including a year-round, regular weekly program as well as weekly throughout the summer. Since its post-COVID reintroduction in 2022, the program has been facilitated as a monthly program in the summer that offers a food component alongside it. 

Benefits of the Program for the Whole Family 

We know that families living in social housing may be experiencing vulnerability from any one or combination of several factors. These include, but are not limited to, food insecurity, poverty, low literacy levels or illiteracy, lack of personal transportation, lack of support system, mental illness, and many more factors that families could face daily. We know that children living with these factors are more vulnerable and likely to fall into cycles of generational poverty, addiction, unhealthy lifestyles, etc. than children who do not.

However, we also know that access to quality early learning programs, such as EarlyON and quality licensed child care programs, can make a substantial impact on buffering or reversing the effects of these factors on the developing child before they reach school age. Unfortunately, these factors can sometimes act as barriers to accessing these sorely needed early learning programs and services for their children. Here are a few ways the program addresses some of these barriers and vulnerability factors:

  • Transportation - While our EarlyON programs and housing units are spread out across the geographical area, it is a struggle for anyone living in rural Leeds and Grenville and even in the more suburban areas along the Highway 401 corridor to access services in their own towns. By bringing an EarlyON Pop-Up program directly to the building itself, it eliminates the transportation barrier for the families living in that building and in that neighbourhood. 
  • Food Insecurity - We have seen that one of the draws of this program is the light lunch. Not all families living in social housing experience food insecurity, but by providing families the opportunity to access food during the program, we ensure children that may be a little hungry that day get something to eat.
  • Low Literacy/Illiteracy - By facilitating activities during the program that involve a literacy component, parents and caregivers for whom this may be a challenge can engage in these activities together in a low-pressure environment with their children. As well, children are given access to books, songs, rhymes and other literacy-based activities before they enter school which lessens the chances that the cycle of illiteracy will continue within the family unit. 
  • Access to a Support System - The program also aims to build up the support system for the family. This consists of strong relationships both with the Case Manager and EarlyON Resource Consultant, and by attempting to help families make connections with other families who may be living with similar challenges. 

Benefits of the Program for Staff

In addition to having countless benefits for families and their children, the program also shows benefits for the Case Managers and EarlyON Resource Consultants. For the Case Manager, seeing tenants in an environment that is non-threatening and non-institutional helps break down any sense of intimidation that families may feel. This can foster more communication between staff and families of better value than they might get during, for example, a regular unit inspection where a tenant may perhaps be more guarded. 

It also gives us a ‘foot in the door’ for encouraging families with young children to access EarlyON programs in other locations, even virtually if that is more convenient. We can also let them know about other services EarlyON provided in Leeds and Grenville that may be more accessible for them. These include one-on-one, in-person, or telephone/virtual parenting consults, which support vulnerable families as the experts on their children, and virtual options such as online workshops and social media-based closed parent groups where they can also access supports. 

Finally, and a very important benefit, facilitating the program gives both the Case Manager and Resource Consultant the opportunity to ‘cross-pollinate’. They learn about projects that other Departments in Community and Social Services are working on and the factors that affect their jobs on a regular basis, and learn more about how we can utilize the strengths, connections and resources of other departments to better reach our clients, some of whom are shared between us all. We continue, as a division and a CMSM, to investigate new ways to collaborate to better serve our clients and families together.

Facts and Statistics

•    25 unique children and 44 unique parents/caregivers - the number of participants the UCLG Housing/EarlyON Summer program supported in the summer 2022 over two program dates.

•    63 - the number of children between the ages of 0-6 years currently (2023) living in social housing across Leeds and Grenville. 

For More Information

For more information on the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville’s Collaborative EarlyON-Social Housing Summer Pop-Up Play Program, contact Mattea Steacy at mattea.steacy@uclg.on.ca.

About the Authors

Mattea Steacy is a Registered Early Childhood Educator and is currently the EarlyON Supervisor with the United Counties of Leeds and Grenville’s Children’s Services Department, overseeing the direct operation of Leeds and Grenville’s EarlyON Child and Family Centre programming. She has worked for UCLG for seven years, also serving as Children’s Services Program Consultant for the first five years, creating, researching and implementing training and capacity building initiatives for educators working in the child care and early learning system. She also spent nine years working as an educator in licensed child care programs prior to this. Mattea holds her Early Childhood Education diploma from St. Lawrence College as well as her Management Development Studies Certificate from Sheridan College. 
Blog categories: EarlyON, Child Care, Housing, Human Services Delivery, United Counties of Leeds and Grenville