OTTAWA -- There’s no question that the COVID-19 pandemic has been extremely difficult for a lot of people, but it has been especially challenging for families raising a child with special needs.

CHEO has built a new respite program for this very reason. 

If you have a child that needs special care, chances are you’ve had to cut back on those services due to physical distancing and home isolation. This program is designed with that in mind. 

CHEO has set up seven rooms at the hospital for their respite program. Parents can book a block of three sessions, over the span of three to four weeks. 

“We’ll have one child and one worker in the classroom for four hours or so,” says Monique Lugli, vice-president of Child Development and Community Services at CHEO. “And it’s really about playing, getting a break.”

Stephanie Paravan has a 13 year-old son with special needs. 

“He has uncontrolled seizures every day, which is what has eventually caused him to lose his mobility and his speech,” says Paravan.

She is on the Kids Come First Health Team, that has partnered with CHEO for this respite program.

“It just makes sense right?” says Paravan. “If you’re wanting to help these people, you need to bring the people in that need the help.”

Giving your child the special attention they need can be overwhelming at times, especially when you don’t have help. And that’s what this pandemic has caused. 

“Someone needs to be with them 24 hours a day to keep them safe. And a lot of families have been doing that now for weeks and weeks on their own,” says Paravan.

That is why there has been such a big response to the program, which only launched a few days ago, and is also offering in-home respite for families who need it.

“We started an email address. and we’ve already had, I think over 135 responses before the end of day Friday,” says Lugli. 

It’s not easy doing this day in and day out, and parents are so grateful for this new service. 

“Already they have been saying, you have no idea what that did. It gave them a break, it gave the child a break,” says Lugli. “They said the child slept better because they had been physically moving around more. We’ve had comments that, my goodness, my child smiled, I haven’t had my child smile in weeks.”

It’s no surprise this program has become so popular so fast. To a parent, there’s nothing more important than the health and happiness of your child.