Children First in COVID-19

ECF grant helps Little Warriors continue providing critical programming to children during pandemic

To call the Be Brave Ranch a special place is a bit of an understatement. Run by Little Warriors, a foundation dedicated to treating and preventing childhood sexual abuse, the Ranch is a long-term facility where children stay for months or weeks at a time, trying to reclaim some of the trust and childhood experiences that have been taken from them. What’s more, it’s the only facility of its kind in Canada.

When COVID-19 restrictions forced the Ranch to close, with no sign of when it may reopen, Little Warriors had even larger problems than laying off dozens of staff and worrying about meeting fundraising goals. They knew they would have to act fast to find something, anything, that could replace the experience for the dozens of children — all between the ages of 8 and 16 — who come to the ranch for a chance to heal.

They had tried online outreach, primarily for prevention programs or to support the family members of the children they were treating. They were in the early stages of preparing a fully online program, but nothing that could have been ready in the first days of COVID. So when Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) stepped up with $26,500 to help them build out an extensive counselling system, it was precisely what they needed to keep reaching out.

“It was critical and timely,” Laurie Szymanski, director of Little Warriors, explained. “Because those children are in our care, we can’t just abandon them. What this really did was give us time, time to not worry as much about the day-to-day and build an online program we could use across the country.” 

Nneka Otogbolu, ECF’s Director of Communications and Equity Strategy says that the grant was a no-brainer. “The Foundation understands the importance of consistency in the healing process for people, particularly children, who are overcoming trauma. That’s why it was clear that supporting Little Warriors was critical.”

The new program, the Be Brave Bridge, gives children and their caregivers a chance to go through multimedia online modules, with regular check-ins from one of Little Warriors therapists. Though it doesn’t offer the community support that the Be Brave Ranch does, through the first few months of the program Little Warriors has found that it is giving children and caregivers the help they need. 

“It’s absolutely already showing that it could be part of our continuum of care,” explains Dr. Wanda Polzin, who is overseeing the program. “We may use it for remote communities, or to help people before they’re able to get to the Ranch.”

And the Be Brave Bridge may even extend beyond the people Little Warriors directly helps. Working with researchers in the U of A, and sharing what they’ve learned with similar support groups, may lead to the program being used across North America, if early results hold true.

“The people who are in it so far have told us they wish that they had had something like this previously,” Dr. Polzin says. “They can’t say enough about it.”

Learn more about ECF’s COVID-19 response.