Sustaining the Village: How communities support early childhood development

Our Challenge

This project is about supporting healthy early childhood development.  There is a great deal of evidence in the peer-reviewed literature that shows that children who enter kindergarten ready to learn are more successful throughout their school careers, and that education is strongly positively correlated to better health in later life.  With the incidence of chronic disease rising, there is more emphasis being placed on prevention of illnesses and health promotion from the early years of life onward.  Investments in promoting supportive, nurturing environments in the early years have life-long impacts on a range of outcomes, including mental health and chronic disease.

Our Approach

IHSTS is collaborating with UBC’s Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP), in the School of Population and Public Health.   HELP has many years of data about the readiness to learn of children when they start kindergarten in BC (measured as vulnerability in one or more of five developmental areas), and one observation is the great differences in readiness among children from different communities.  We are focussing on four towns within Interior Health Authority because the town of Revelstoke has long been known to have the best results for school readiness in BC, as well as very good educational outcomes.  Our project lead, Dr. Brenda Poon, has identified four communities: Revelstoke and Golden are similar in geography and demographics, yet have a three-fold difference in the vulnerability of their children at kindergarten age.  Also, Armstrong and Enderby are similar but have a two-fold difference in vulnerability of their children.   During the scoping phase of this project (read the report), we learned that these differences may be due to community factors, specifically the effectiveness of the services provided by the various local agencies as well as their ability to collaborate and coordinate amongst themselves.  This project will work collaboratively with the leadership and staff at those agencies and others in the four communities, to focus on understanding the ways they do their work, and also accessibility of community services and supports for children and their families. In addition, data already available at HELP will be analyzed to characterize the health and educational achievements of children in our target communities.  We hope that identifying successful practices in communities with lower childhood vulnerabilities will allow us to prototype effective interventions to help other communities improve their services to young children.

How might this project contribute to transformation and sustainability of health care services in BC?

There is widespread recognition that providing treatment to the increasing number of people with chronic diseases is not sustainable, and much more emphasis must be placed on prevention of disease.  A focus on healthy early childhood development is a more effective prevention strategy than encouraging those in middle age to change their behaviours. In addition to contributing to the sustainability of our health care system, improving early childhood development could contribute to decreased costs of education (as has already been demonstrated in Revelstoke), social services and the criminal justice system.