MAKING CHILDREN SMILE.
HELPING FAMILIES COPE.
For over 30 years, Starlight Children’s Foundation Canada’s mission has been to support the emotional well-being of Canadian families with seriously ill children through a unique blend of hospital-to-home programs.
A Canada where all families with sick children are emotionally supported through their entire journey – from hospital to home.
Families with seriously ill children are facing emotional and societal struggles. In Canada, youth living with chronic or critical health conditions are more likely to develop mental health issues (Source: Canadian Mental Health Association). Having a child living with a serious illness or facing hospitalization can bring on overwhelming feelings of stress, anxiety, fear, worry, and a loss of control for the whole family. For children and teens missing basic experiences due to health issues, these mental challenges can be even more difficult to understand, convey, and cope with.
Starlight Canada’s programs provide emotional relief to Canadian families with critically or chronically ill children aged 0-18 – from hospital to home. Through needs-based programs, Starlight Canada spreads joy, laughter, and relief to seriously ill kids and teens across Canada. Our large variety of in-hospital and outpatient services create positive experiences through reliable, distraction-based programs that provide newfound smiles and irreplaceable memories for the whole family.
Starlight Children’s Foundation Canada is fully committed to being transparent and accountable to our past, present, and future donors, Board of Directors, and the families and children that we serve. We are consistently collecting feedback from corporate or hospital partners, volunteers, and Starlight families through ongoing surveys, meetings, and focus group discussions. For a comprehensive look at our financial overview, please refer to our audited financials or our Canada Revenue Agency page.
Staff & Volunteers: 9,000 Hours of Volunteering a Year
The heart of any non-profit is its volunteers. Starlight Canada strives to engage with and recruit volunteers across Canada to assist with our many fundraising and programming initiatives.
While we have nearly 729 volunteers registered in our database, an average of only 300 are active each year. Active volunteers are defined as an individual who volunteered at at least one event per year for a minimum of 10 hours. Based on the interest/capacity of each volunteer, hours vary per individual; some give 20 hours a month, and others 20 a year.
Based on this, we’ve averaged an estimated 30 hours per volunteer, resulting in 9,000 volunteer hours a year. Thanks to the help of committed community members, we are able to reduce staff spending costs, reach more families with seriously ill children, and provide rewarding, memorable experiences to volunteers.
Fund Contribution Sources (2021)
Allocation of Expenses (2021)
Programming: $6,511,935 (89.2%)
Fundraising: $548,659.00 (7.52%)
Administration: $236,159.00 (3.24%)
ALLOCATION OF RESOURCES: AMOUNT SPENT ON PROGRAMMING ($6,511,935):
This value is calculated by totaling the amount of expenses that directly contributed to hospital-to-home programs. Breakdown: Expense total: $7,296,753; minus the expenses not related to programming (fundraising or administration costs): $784,818; equals the total spent on programming: $6,511,935.
Each year, there are around 60,000 inpatient hospitalizations among Canadian kids and teens aged 0-17 (Source: Canadian Institution for Health Information). With a variety of in-hospital programs, Starlight Canada offers distraction, relief, and fun for sick kids or teens who may be nervously awaiting treatment, recovering from surgery, or feeling lonely in their rooms. From activity kits to interactive gaming stations, we provide immediate, emotional comfort to support every child through their stay. By continuously making the hospital experience more positive for paediatric patients, our long-term goal is to minimize the association of fear and anxiety with hospital visits as much as possible. For a full list and overview of the 121 hospitals we partner with, click here.
Starlight Canada’s programs are needs-based. Surveys are held annually with our national paediatric hospital partners to identify individual program needs/requests. To view the direct requests as indicated from each hospital, please visit our Hospital Wish List platform.
FUN CENTER: PROGRAM ANALYSIS
The Starlight Fun Center is a mobile entertainment unit featuring a flat-screen television and a Nintendo Switch gaming system preloaded with a wide variety of games for every kid, which is updated annually with new content. Internet-ready, the units allow hospitalized children to stay in touch with their friends and family; while also giving them a bit of normal downtime to watch their favourite movies, check their social media, and more. Specifically manufactured to meet strict infection safety protocols, Starlight Fun Centers can roll anywhere in the hospital to keep kids entertained and distracted, which is especially important with many playrooms closed due to COVID-19.
CHILD LIFE SPECIALIST FEEDBACK: The Starlight Fun Center is our #1 requested program by medical professionals serving sick children in hospitals. In the last 6 months of 2021, we received more than 150 requests from hospitals across the country for the program – most expressing a need for multiple units. To view the program needs as indicated by our hospital partners, refer to our Hospital Wish List platform.
SHORT-TERM OUTCOMES: While children may be limited to their hospital beds, the Starlight Fun Center provides immediate, emotional relief through endless hours of bedside entertainment and distraction. Units also encourage physical therapy, with doctors prescribing Fun Center play time to get their child patients moving, while still having fun.
LONG-TERM OUTCOMES: On average, a single Fun Center has a lasting impact as it reaches more than 2,190 patients per year. The average lifespan of a unit is 8 years in-hospital, benefitting around 17,500 hospitalized children in total.
PROGRAM UPDATES: In 20219-2020, there was a software/hardware update made to our Fun Centers intended to improve quality and design structure. As a result, we were not able to place any units during these developments and instead distributed the new product once complete in 2021, as reflected below.
TREASURE CHESTS: PROGRAM ANALYSIS
Packed with puzzles, games, and toys to entertain all ages, Starlight Treasure Chests make sure pediatric patients always have a distraction from the stress of treatment or the boredom of waiting for their next appointment. The toys come in a special chest provided by Starlight Canada, which can be easily wiped down for infection control and are refilled at least twice a year. To view the program needs as indicated by our hospital partners, refer to our Hospital Wish List platform.
OUTCOMES: In addition to creating a quick, enjoyable outlet for kids to focus on other than medical treatments while in-hospital, these pick-me-ups often provide positive reinforcement after difficult treatments and procedures to help ease the process for both families and hospital staff.
PROGRAM UPDATES: 2020/2021 numbers are not as comparable to previous years due to COVID-19 programming updates.
COMFORT KITS: PROGRAM ANALYSIS
Designed for babies to teens to parents, our Starlight Comfort Kits offer comfort, distraction, and entertainment for the whole family and bring a bit of softness to a stressful situation. Created to fit the needs of children and family members of all ages, Starlight offers 4 types of Comfort Kits: Baby Kits, Toddler Kits, Teen Kits, and Admit Kits. For full descriptions of each Comfort Kit, click here.
CONTENT INCLUDED (VARIES PER KIT): Toys, puzzles, lip balms, books, toothbrushes, crafts, hair brushes, phone chargers, playing cards, and more.
OUTCOMES: By providing the immediate essentials for both play and comfort to a child and their family, a level of stress is removed in knowing that they have what they need to make it through their stay without any visits to the store – while maybe even sharing some smiles along the way. Since many seriously ill kids cannot share toys or items in-hospital due to infection control, Starlight Comfort Kits are quick fixes that are also especially important to keep spirits high and ease social interactions with hospital staff.
CHILD LIFE SPECIALIST FEEDBACK: Hospital staff and Child Life Specialists have indicated that Comfort Kits have helped them to provide quick emotional support to families and children in high-stress situations. “I saw first-hand how the wonderful gift bag turned tears into a smile,” shared Suzanne, Child Life Department, HSC Winnipeg.
FAMILY/PATIENT FEEDBACK: After benefitting from our Comfort Kits in-hospital directly, parents have shared that they were especially useful during emergency hospital admissions. Often times a child is rushed to the hospital in an emergency with a sudden diagnosis, a relapse, or any other critical situation. In these exceptionally stressful and urgent times, the last thing a parent does is stop and pack a bag. Designed for these unexpected trips, our kits help provide the key essentials to get both child and family through their stay.
PROGRAM UPDATES: 2020 shipments were directly affected due to pandemic restrictions.
HOSPITAL HAPPENINGS: PROGRAM ANALYSIS
Starlight Canada works with children’s hospitals across Canada to bring the party and distraction to in-patient children and their families – without having to leave the hospital. From decorations to special games and crafts, Hospital Happenings provide an extra level of fun that every child needs to support them while stuck in the hospital.
OUTCOMES: Since Starlight Canada plans the whole event, hospital staff can stay focused on providing the top level of care. At the same time, families find relief in knowing that there is something else to do in the hospital, other than fearing for their next test, needle, or surgery.
PROGRAM UPDATES & LEARNING OUTCOMES: Due to COVID-19, were limited/unable to hold full-scale Hospital Happenings in 2020-2021. To make sure we could still provide emotional support in-hospital, we quickly adapted to offer part of this program virtually, such as through online Bingo Games or virtual Scavenger Hunts. Since then, we have continued to offer distractions online to hospitalized patients given their ongoing isolation, and the 2020-201 numbers below reflect the inclusion of virtual programs.
PLAY FROM HOSPITAL SHIPMENTS: PROGRAM ANALYSIS
During the pandemic, hospital visits for paediatric patients were more isolating and fearful than ever. Happiness sent safely to hospitals, these super-sized shipments include countless fun activities designed to encourage play among isolated children during their hospital stay. Carefully sanitized and distributed to paediatric patients by hospital staff, Play From Hospital Shipments include individual gifts/packages to give kids or teens a perfect pick-me-up of their own (that they get to take home), while avoiding the fear of infection and finding time for play. The number of toys and range of activities per shipment varies depending on the personalized needs of each hospital. To view the program needs as indicated by our hospital partners, refer to our Hospital Wish List platform.
CONTENT INCLUDED (VARIES PER SHIPMENT): Toys, arts and crafts, lego sets, board games, sanitizers, and more.
OUTCOMES: Designed specifically during a time when hospitalized children were isolated due to the pandemic, Play From Hospital Shipments helped parents who could not see their child feel less helpless, and kids who were stuck by themselves feel less bored or worried by having an activity to focus on.
PROGRAM UPDATES & LEARNING OUTCOMES: Play From Hospital Shipments started in 2020 as a direct response to COVID-19. During the outbreak of the pandemic, hospital visits were more difficult for kids and teens than ever. With limited visitors allowed, time in-hospital was often spent scared and alone. While we were limited in our other in-hospital programming in 2020/2021, this program was created so that we could carefully provide individual, sanitized gifts for paediatric patients. Based on the responses we have received from hospitals regarding the continued isolation of their paediatric patients, even post-pandemic, we will continue to offer this program as needed.
A child’s chronic or critical condition has a heavy emotional impact on the entire family. By offering ongoing distraction-based programming for the family as a whole, Starlight Canada develops positive experiences to help improve their mental well-being. Starlight Canada’s out-of-hospital wish programs grant wishes of all sizes to give seriously ill children and their families a reason to smile year-round. Whether they are wishing for a simple night out with a loved one or dreaming big with an ultimate wish of a lifetime, Starlight Canada creates a variety of new opportunities that helps empower children, create rare family-bonding experiences, reduce stress, and increase emotional support.
Ongoing data trends from 2019-2021 show a steady increase of new Starlight families registering into our programs each year, predominantly in Ontario. Applications showed that our top 2 referral streams to our programs came from 1) friends/other Starlight families and 2) through hospital recommendations. With a majority of our Starlight families being based in Ontario and Quebec, our future goals are to expand our reach nationally to support even more families with seriously ill children in other provinces. To do so, we are starting to supply information pamphlets to Child Life Specialists to hand out in hospitals as a way to help spread the word and provide new resources.
Starlight Canada designs and bases our out-of-hospital program structures with strong consideration of feedback collected from our FUBU (For Us By Us) Committee discussions. These meetings are held at minimum once a year, consisting of a group of registered Starlight families, to provide insight into Starlight Canada’s strengths or areas for improvement.
AGE BREAKDOWN: BY GENDER
Age 0-5: 90 (5.7%)
Female: 45 (50%)
Male: 44 (48.8%)
Unidentified: 1 (1.1%)
Age 6-12: 658 (41.9%)
Female: 287 (43.6%)
Male: 345 (52.4%)
Unidentified: 14 (2.1%)
Age 13-18: 822 (52.3%)
Female: 324 (39.4%)
Male: 445 (54.1%)
Unidentified: 53 (6.4%)
AGE BREAKDOWN: BY LANGUAGE
Age 0-5: 90 (5.7%)
English: 60 (66.6%)
French: 23 (25.5%)
Bilingual: 7 (7.7%)
Age 6-12:658 (41.9%)
English: 382 (58%)
French: 150 (22.7%)
Bilingual: 23 (3.4%)
Other/Unknown: 103 (15.6%)
Age 13-18: 822 (52.3%)
English: 398 (48.4%)
French: 138 (16.7%)
Bilingual: 19 (2.3%)
Other/Unknown: 267 (32.4%)
STARLIGHT ONCE IN A LIFETIME WISHES: PROGRAM ANALYSIS
For Canadian children with chronic or critical illnesses, our Starlight Once In A Lifetime Wishes help make the impossible come true by bringing their wishes to life. Whether it’s wishing for a trip to Walt Disney World or wishing to climb a mountain, Starlight Canada takes these dreams and makes them a reality. Available for children between the ages of 4 to 18, families are only eligible for this program if they have not had a wish granted by another non-profit organization, and acceptance is reviewed on a case-by-case basis in terms of their diagnoses and quality of life.
OUTCOMES: For kids and teens who have had so much of their life controlled by illness, having the ability to dream big and pick a wish of their own is an empowering moment that provides a sense of confidence and identity outside of a diagnosis. The excitement begins before the wish even takes place, as the hope of having something to look forward to as a family provides excitement and mental relief away from the medical worries. These unique, once-in-a-lifetime experiences can give sick kids the strength to keep fighting, the hope for better days, or provides lasting memories for a family who may not always have their child by their side.
PROGRAM UPDATES: Please note that Once In A Lifetime Wishes were limited in 2020-2021 due to pandemic restrictions, as reflected below.
STARLIGHT GREAT ESCAPES WISHES: PROGRAM ANALYSIS
When a child lives with a medical condition, it can often be difficult to find quality time with family, or even with friends, due to health constraints and financial obstacles. Starlight Great Escapes Wishes bring families together to help make up for some lost time by creating fun-filled events for new memories and new friendships. These events include driving in exotic cars, movie screenings, harbour cruises, adapted skiing, holiday parties, sleepovers, and more. After a day spent with people who all truly understand one another, sick children are sure to go home with a renewed sense of strength and hope.
Designed for kids of all ages, illnesses, and abilities, we’re making sure no one is left out of the adventures. Starlight families and children who meet one another through these events have gone on to make lasting connections, friendships, and support systems for life. The program is currently available in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec.
OUTCOMES: A third-party study concluded that Great Escapes Wishes events improved the emotional well-being of children, while also reducing stress for parents. Societal costs associated with a child’s illness decreased after the event, while their quality of life increased. All parents who participated in the study would allow their child to attend again and found a high value attached to the event. For a comprehensive analysis of the findings, please view The Collaboration Vector’s Great Escapes Study. Although conducted in 2016, John McCormick, Research Lead of The Collaboration Vector Inc., indicated strong evidence that the results provide the same measure of outcomes to date. View his full statement from August 2022.
FAMILY DISCUSSIONS: Through FUBU (For Us By Us) discussions that are held at minimum once a year, consisting of a group of Starlight families that provide programming feedback, it was concluded that Starlight Great Escapes Wishes are our #1 requested out-of-hospital program for families with sick children.
PROGRAM UPDATES: Due to the high interest in these events, a large focus has been put on our Great Escapes Wishes programming, with a goal to expand even further across Canada. Please note that Great Escapes Wishes were more limited in 2020-2021 due to pandemic restrictions, as reflected below.
STARLIGHT DAY BRIGHTENER WISHES: PROGRAM ANALYSIS
Sometimes all a child wishes for in a given moment is a break from the hospitals, treatments, and therapies. Whether it’s cheering at a sports game, jamming along at a concert, learning at a museum, or much more, a Day Brightener Wish helps Starlight families unwind for a few hours and have some fun.
Regularly offered in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec and shared equally and fairly between all Starlight families, Starlight Canada distributes tickets on a regular basis.
OUTCOMES: Easy to fit around hospital schedules, these exciting outings are the perfect pick-me-ups to help provide emotional support through a child’s medical journey. By providing even small moments of normalcy, excitement, and joy to a sick child, we disrupt everyday anxieties and create positive memories for families who have missed out on so much, while giving them a boost of energy or hope that they may need to get through their next treatment.
Often times, accessibility and planning are issues for many families with a child who has mobility issues or extensive medical needs, making simple outings difficult. Our Day Brightener Wishes take this into consideration and offer many wheelchair-accessible experiences that may otherwise be difficult to find. Given the flexibility and year-round opportunities that this program provides, stress is reduced by removing the obstacles of planning and associated costs.
FAMILY DISCUSSIONS: Starlight families expressed gratitude for having siblings included in ticket opportunities as part of our Day Brightener Wishes. Sharing that having a child with an illness can often take a toll on the emotional well-being of siblings as well, it’s important that they are included in activities and given a chance to shine. “Asides from all the smiles you give kids who are in and out of hospital, we are so grateful for the thoughts that go towards the siblings who very often are forgotten,” a Starlight parent shared. “It is one of the things that hit us the most – you always include them.”
PROGRAM UPDATES & LEARNING OUTCOMES: Given the growing demand for tickets that comes with an increase of registered Starlight families, we recently have focused more effort on outreach and nurturing relationships with ticket-holding companies/foundations to save spending costs while still creating an impact. Visits to the Zoo/Aquarium were the most common Day Brightener offered in 2021, with strong interest found among Starlight families.
Please note that Day Brightener Wishes were more limited in 2020-2021 due to pandemic restrictions, as reflected below.
PLAY FROM HOME PACKS: PROGRAM ANALYSIS
Created just days after COVID-19 put Canada on lockdown, the Play From Home Program was launched to provide support through our children’s isolation. This emergency program was designed to bring happiness into the homes of seriously ill and immunocompromised children who could no longer go outside without fear for their health.
Play From Home Packs filled with board games, crafts, toys, and countless other interactive activities were shipped safely and directly to the homes of Starlight families. As another component of the program, Virtual Starlight Shows were also streamed on Facebook Live to provide interactive entertainment to children through their screens, in addition to Virtual Scavenger Hunts that families could participate in at home through an app.
PROGRAM NEED: As our Starlight children – who have a variety of immune deficiencies – were now completely confined to home due to COVID-19, a new program was required for families to find joy, laughter, and relief during an already difficult time while facing illness.
OUTCOMES: As families with seriously ill children became even more vulnerable and isolated during the pandemic, Play From Home Packs provided a safe, at-home distraction for mental relief. Each new gift/pack delivered allowed for a new opportunity to explore and play, helping relieve some of their boredom and fear without the additional stress of the associated costs. With no other opportunities for fun ahead in the foreseeable future due to the pandemic, the program enriched the at-home experience by giving families something new they could always look forward to and rely on. Reaching kids and teens who are confined to their homes across Canada, these virtual activities also allow children and families to stay connected as they tune in/play together while creating an online community for emotional support while apart. Many Starlight families would interact with each other through the comments section; exchanging photos, stories, birthday wishes, and more, to remind them that they are not alone in their struggles.
FAMILY DISCUSSIONS: A survey shows that 72% of Starlight parents would want to receive a Play From Home Pack again. For the Virtual Scavenger Hunt component of this program, FUBU (For Us By Us) discussions among Starlight families – intended to provide program feedback – concluded that the activities were of strong interest. However, suggestions were made to limit the number of missions and to ensure more of them were easily accessible to children with motor difficulties. We have taken these comments into consideration and will be adjusting future Virtual Scavenger Hunts to have fewer, more inclusive activities.
PROGRAM UPDATES & LEARNING OUTCOMES: Although Play From Home Packs were created as a temporary program in 2020 due to the pandemic, moving forward, we will continue to supply these packs filled with toys – just on a less frequent basis. We found that the need for this program was heightened throughout the spikes of the pandemic, however, many families with seriously ill children will still be isolated at times due to their diagnoses/conditions. In terms of our Virtual Shows, we saw the online viewership start to lower towards the end of 2020. As a result, we put less focus on Facebook Live Streaming in 2021 to keep up with the desires/needs of our Starlight families, as can be seen in the chart below.
“A lot of money is raised for a cure and that’s great. However, a lot of kids won’t be around for that cure. You need to take care of them today.”
– Starlight dad, Steve Brunetta, who lost his 12-year-old daughter, Brooke, after a 20-month battle with leukemia.