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Beyond Healthcare: Ottawa Community Health Centres and Their Partners Provide Early Childhood Development Services to Syrian Refugee Children

Monday, March 7, 2016

Ottawa Community Health Centres (CHCs), Mothercraft Ottawa’s Ontario Early Years Centre and Dovercourt Recreation Association have partnered to provide essential early childhood development services as part of the resettlement support to Ottawa’s Syrian refugee population.

Early Childhood Development professionals, health promoters, outreach workers and interpreters are working together to run lively playgroups up to four days a week in Ottawa hotels where refugees are temporarily housed. As of today, 1472 refugees – including 1083 government assisted refugees – have arrived in Ottawa and many are temporarily housed at three hotels across the city. In this time of need, CHCs have moved quickly to provide early childhood services and school readiness in addition to medical care on-site at all the temporary housing sites.

These essential services provide an 'umbrella' for regularly monitoring the health status of refugee children at critical period of growths. Young children aged newborn to 6 yrs and families can attend hours of learning through play including singing, crafts and connecting in a safe and supportive environment. The benefits are massive and include improved language development, decreased social isolation, and better social and emotional functioning.

Kimberly Vandermeer of Somerset West Community Health Centre leads circle time with refugee children at the Radisson Hotel.

The playgroups are also a platform to engage with parents and provide them with information in their language about community resources for health and wellness, such as community health centres, libraries and recreational programs. As they start planning for the future, they also receive reassurance that services will be available to them once they move out of temporary accommodations.

“Working with refugee children and their parents is very rewarding. Some have even worked with Arabic speaking staff to write thank you letters to our staff and centres who provide the services,” said Jennifer Thériault, Early Years Coordinator and Health Promoter at the Centretown Community Health Centre. 

As Syrian refugees are slowly moving into permanent housing in communities across Ottawa, with 580 out of 970 Syrian refugees now living out of hotels, language-specific staff connect them with their local CHC for ongoing social support and care.

Media are welcome to attend the playgroup session with children on Wednesday March 9th from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at the Radisson Hotel (402 Queen Street, Ottawa, ON).


Ottawa CHCs are members of Refugee 613, the grassroots organization coordinating the city of Ottawa’s Syrian refugee resettlement efforts, including housing and healthcare.

As part of their work on the Refugee 613 Health Task Force, Ottawa CHCs have set up multiple health and social services that run regularly at each hotel site to care for Ottawa’s Syrian refugee population.

The CHCs involved are: Somerset West, Centretown, Carlington, Pinecrest-Queensway and Sandy Hill.


Jennifer Theriault

Early Years Coordinator and Health Promoter, Centretown Community Health Centre

Kimberly Vandermeer

Registered Early Childhood Educator, Somerset West Community Health Centre


To schedule an interview, please contact:

Tess Frémont-Côté

Communications Officer, Somerset West Community Health Centre

613-238-8210, ext. 2267

Valérie Levert-Gagnon

Communications Officer, Centretown Community Health Centre

613-233-4443, ext. 2496