NORTH BAY -- As Ontario’s economy re-opens, Hands The Family Help Network says it's planning for a safe return to in-person visits and community work.

The agency will continue to support clients and families with virtual services. The combination of in-person and virtual care options will be sustained for the foreseeable future.

Hands is launching a survey to ask clients about their concerns, what would help them feel safe in a return to in-person visits and whether they prefer to continue with an online option or combination of in-person and virtual approach to service.

"As providers of essential services to children, youth, adults with developmental disabilities and their families, health and safety is always a priority at Hands. We quickly adapted our services to a virtual model to meet our client’s needs during this pandemic and have maintained that service over the past five months,” said Hands’ CEO Andrea Roberts.

The team is made up of child and family therapists, child and youth workers, behaviour therapists and many more health care workers.

Service is provided to more than 11,000 individuals in North Bay, Nipissing, Muskoka, Parry Sound and northern Ontario each year.

Hands provides services in the areas of: adult developmental services, autism, child development, child and youth mental health and justice services.

The organization plans to use a strategic, staggered approach when re-opening to ensure it meets priority needs.

Some clinicians and employees will begin to return to offices this summer, while others will return in the fall.

"We know that there will be a ‘new normal’ when we do return to our offices. Our ability to carefully plan our return provides us an opportunity to come back better prepared for future disruptions," said Roberts.

In planning for a potential second wave of the pandemic, Hands says it is ensuring the agency remains nimble and able to make a swift and successful return to increased virtual service if required.

Hands says it is focused on planning for how the agency can ‘build back better’ in returning to on-site work at its 12 locations throughout the region and in settings with community partners.

The agency is looking at a number of things to consider, including: the need for services that need to be prioritized, meeting with clients or families while maintaining physical distancing, individual clients or families that might be in crisis and need priority in-person help, and much more.