When Sheila Pretto came here from England to work at the Terrace Child Development Centre in the summer of 1978 she only planned to stay for the year. Instead, that one year turned into almost four decades of faithful service.
But after 38 years with the CDC, Pretto has decided to retire this June.
“I will miss the families and the comradery within the team. But being in Terrace, I know that I’m still going to keep in touch with these people,” Pretto said. “I think I’m the longest serving employee ever.”
Fiona Delorme, the centre’s executive director, agreed that Pretto will be missed and said with a laugh that “she’s on my speed dial.”
Pretto, who works as a speech-language pathologist with the CDC, but over the years has also taken on the role of program director and infant development consultant, has been with the centre from almost the beginning.
In 1978, she said, there were six people working at the CDC; Today, there are over 20 employees at the centre who provide education, therapy and support to children living with special needs and their families.
The centre was first established in 1974 by a group of concerned parents who saw the need to offer more assistance and support for childhood special needs in the community.
For confidentially reasons, Pretto couldn’t go into detail about specific children or families she has helped over the years, but she did say her greatest accomplishments on the job have involved helping families in need.
“There are specific families that I’ve worked with that I feel like I’ve had a lot of professional satisfaction from,” Pretto said. “The intervention I’ve provided has made a difference.”
As a speech-language pathologist with the centre, Pretto has treated children with all kinds of potential communication disorders, including youth with delayed speech or who are deaf or hard-of-hearing.
Although the philosophy of the CDC has always been family-orientated, Pretto said over the years an increased focus on involving the whole family when it comes to a child with special needs has been hugely satisfying.
“I see my primary role as training the families, the primary caregivers,” Pretto said. “Because when they buy-in and they can learn strategies they are the ones who will make the difference because they are with the child all the time.”
The CDC is partly funded by the provincial government who, according to their website, define a child with special needs as children and youth who require additional educational, medical and environmental support.
In Pretto’s 38 years on the job, she said the way children with special needs are represented in the education system has seen major changes as well.
“When I first came here we had the preschool operating but it was what we called a ‘segregated kind of program’, so it was a program just for children with special needs,” Pretto said. “It was a significant change when there was a change within the whole kind of educational approach towards inclusion of children with special needs within daycares and preschool environments.”
“We went from being a segregated preschool to a preschool where we basically have all children.”
There are many child development centres providing community-specific support throughout the province. While these centres have expanded and changed over the years, Pretto said there was always room for improvement.
“It’s always concern about limited funded,” Pretto said. “Ideally, we have funding to provide services and we could always do with more funding so we can provide more frequent services or more intensive services. That’s an ongoing issue.”
However, before Pretto retires in June she said the Terrace Child Development Centre does have some important changes coming its way this summer, including a renovated hydrotherapy pool and a new accessible playground for children at the centre.
Pretto said that even after all these years it’ll still be business as usual at the centre before she retires: she has therapy sessions to deliver and consulting meetings with special needs educators in town.
When she does retire next month, Pretto said she is going to miss the job but is excited for what’s to come.
“I’m looking forward to traveling a little bit more and spending more time on things I enjoy doing,” Pretto said. “I have family in town, grandchildren in town, and they keep me pretty busy.”