YMCA of Greater Vancouver

DTES and Strathcona, Vancouver


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I am so glad that my child is able to participate in the sessions with Alexina and the staff. She likes to sing, and knowing that she gets to spend time learning with her friends about waiting, sharing and patience all while doing something she loves, that’s exciting for me. It’s a unique opportunity, and we’re lucky to have that opportunity at Nanook. I know the children have missed Alexina, and we are excited that new ways to bring the service back are being explored.”


Parent of Participant

In collaboration with the YMCA staff team and external supports, music therapist Alexina primarily works with the children in group sessions to build skills in social bonding, appropriate expression and regulation of emotion including difficult emotions such as anger, sadness and confusion, language development, fine and gross motor development and self-esteem. Additionally some children are unable to take part in group sessions and require one to one care.


Children at both the Bob and Kay Ackles Nanook house in Strathcona and Woodwards Childcare centre in the Downtown Eastside 80% of families are subsidized from the Ministry of Children and Family Development and 23 out of 31 families identify as Indigenous Many have physical and emotional needs that require additional supports for childhood success Human Early Learning Partnership classifies these neighbourhoods as some of Vancouver’s most impoverished communities, with between 33% and 52% of kindergarten children identified as vulnerable on one or more developmental domain.

  • Some of the highest rates of drug addiction, poverty, housing insecurity, and disease in Canada
  • One of the highest child poverty rates in the country
  • 49.2% of children are under 6 years old
  • As many as 80% are Indigenous children
  • Over 50% of all families are lone parent households
How does Music Therapy uniquely address the needs of clients at YMCA?

Children respond naturally to music therapy interventions and form rich and healthy attachments with the music therapist, which allows the therapist to guide them effectively in their learning and growth. Music therapy helps toddler children reach essential developmental milestones and prevents language, social, and emotional challenges later on in life. It also provides motivation and supports children in learning difficult but essential skills such as turn taking and sharing.

Music Therapy helps children who have emotionally shut down find chances to dance and jump, laugh and be silly. The thrill and release of hitting a large loud drum offers a chance to learn to let out anger appropriately, providing a simple platform to learn that hitting another person is not okay while hitting an instrument that is big and strong is. Learning how to let out powerful and confusing emotions like anger in a positive way has been tremendously positive for many of these children.

How has COVID-19 impacted the program?

The Music Therapy was suspended from March 17th to August 31st 2020 due to COVID-19 and health challenges facing the Music Therapist. The program has begun virtual sessions as of September 8th. Covid-19 has created a significantly high level of stress on staff, children and their families. Many of the children have had big changes in their families due to Covid. Parents have lost employment, or changed employment, families have less access to funds for food and nutrition, family violence has escalated and so many other factors. Now is the time to increase offering of this program and help support the children. Moving forward with a Virtual telecom music therapy will allow for exploring options of expanding to other centres and reaching more children.

Families living in the DTES struggle with multiple social and economic barriers such as poverty, mental health, and addiction challenges. Many of the parents are younger and have experienced some form of trauma, which may be ongoing. A significant percentage of families identify as Indigenous and some of these parents may be experiencing the ripple effects of residential schools, which in turn, can affect their ability to parent. Lack of parenting skills also has a huge impact on the children, which may look like increased screen time, unhealthy attachments, poor nutrition and dental health and affected speech. The most recognizable challenges in YMCA’s programs have been language, social, physical and emotional development. Many children are also in and out of foster care, which can also introduce stress such as inconsistent housing and care. In addition to these areas, some children have had additional diagnoses such as Sensory Processing Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Adopting the music therapy program at YMCA will increase programming from 7 hours to 9 hours per week at the Bob & Kay Ackles YMCA Nanook House and Woodwards Child Care Centre. The YMCA will be opening two new centres in 2021 in the Downtown Eastside, which will expand the number of vulnerable children in need of specialized programs to an additional 70. The funds will support the expansion of virtual programming for the balance of the year and potentially reach more children across additional centres because of the use of technology.

Music Therapy has been a particular help for children like James in the 3-5 year old program (name changed to preserve confidentiality.) James found both fun and emotional release while engaging in music therapy sessions, as his struggles with emotional regulation often made it difficult for him to engage in calm, functional play with his peers. Through the sessions, James was able to participate in a group activity alongside his friends and practice waiting for a turn in a positive and supported way. James actively sang along, engaged with the musical instruments and participated enthusiastically during each session. These experiences connected him with his peers in ways that other play scenarios could not.


Alexina Davis

Alexina Davis (MTA, MT-BC) graduated from Capilano University in 2016 and has been working full time as a certified music therapist since then. In her internship, she specialized in working with children and youth in resource classrooms at elementary and high schools over the lower mainland. Since then, she has been working in the preschool program at several YMCAs, as well as running two bereavement groups with Camp Kerry Society meant for children from ages 6-12 years old, coordinating and leading the music therapy team and children’s group at their annual camps (BC, Ontario and Atlantic locations), and Synergy, their specialized bereavement community choir. She also runs a few long term care programs and private contracts.



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