Early Childhood Development Centre Conference

February 15, 2013
Saint John, New Brunswick

The Honourable Margaret McCain's address to the Early Childhood Development Centre Conference:

It’s been a short five years since your Premier, social service and education ministers visited First Duty sites in Ontario and saw first hand the benefits of integrated service delivery for children and families. Your officials brought the concept home, gave it a made-in-New-Brunswick twist, and the Early Childhood Development Centres were on their way.

In an incredibly condensed timeframe you accomplished incredible things. But it is the story of Susan, more than any space, committee or spreadsheet that speaks to your success. Susan is a young mother raising three small children under circumstances that would have worn anyone down. Distrustful of the ‘helping’ agencies for good reason; they had a way of reinforcing all she was doing ‘wrong’.

Referred to the Early Child Development Centre,  over time the staff team earned her trust. First by respecting her as the prime person in her children’s lives, but also by listening to her, respecting her solutions for her family and then by using their skills to bring the supports to Susan, rather than setting her up with yet another appointment to cart three children to.

Susan reminds us that parenting is an incredible privilege. It is also really hard work, even for the best- resourced adults. In developing our vision for the early childhood education, we must considered parents and the ways that early childhood education services can work in effective partnerships with them. Some families face significant challenges in addition to those that come with bringing up children, such as poverty, violence, inflexible work conditions or marital breakdown.

Early childhood education programs can be a refuge for children and families during times of high stress, but only if we build trusting, reciprocal and warm relationships with them. Most importantly, we must stop viewing parents as deficient, but rather help them to tap into their reservoirs of strength. These strong parental/staff connections are what make the difference between okay ECE programs and great ones. Building effective and sustainable relationships with parents is one of the most important outcomes of integrated services delivery. When multidisciplinary staff teams pool their capacities in the service of families they become more than the sum of their parts.

Integrated service delivery is also a constant reminder of the fact that families aren’t static. Their needs change as their children grow and as their families grow. There are obvious times when children benefit from a parent in the home. But research tells us that supporting parental participation in paid work generates good 
outcomes for parents and children. Children suffer when parents can’t work, from the affects of poverty, from social isolation, depression and poor health. Quebec’s focus on supporting mothers to work has dramatically reduced child poverty and cut the numbers of lone parents on social assistance by half. This maybe why the current priority for New Brunswick’s government is to expand access to child care to help parents enter the workforce.

Pre-integration thinking might lead some to conclude that child care ‘won’, while other ECE services ‘lost’ in provincial budget priorities. But that would be old thinking. Innovative leaders will have been seeking ways use the new child care funding creatively to expand and sustain their service base.

Research in New Brunswick and elsewhere, tracking the progress of integration efforts points to strategies that work – and those that don’t.

In sites where the tasks of the child care supervisor are repurposed to organize the integrated program, we see that intervention staff are able to spend less time on administration and travel, and more time with families.

We see ECE opportunities open to children and parents who are not formally registered, providing educational play for children, social contact for parents and caregivers and a chance for educators to model effective parenting behavior.  

Rather than being fenced in by defined physical space, service providers have repurposed and shared their space in response to community need. Why can’t children enrolled in child care use the school’s gym and playground. Why can’t children with their parents participate in child care programming?  None, but it does require breaking down the silos in our own thinking.  

I don’t wish to minimize the challenges of getting around rules and funding restrictions,  but others have -- at least to some degree. This happens when everyone makes it their job to turn ‘no we can’t’ into ‘yes we can’.

And getting to yes has never been easier in New Brunswick. When we began on this journey it took the agreement of many different departments and ministers – those ministries have since combined into one with oversight for early education, education and intervention services. Setting up the sites took navigating through several layers of regional administration. There is now one regional authority.

Instead of many policies emanating from many departments, there is one early years framework addressing the needs of children from the prenatal period through to formal schooling. These are issues of governance, not as exciting as new programs or new money but as important because they provide the infrastructure for effective programming.

As for the Margaret and Wallace McCain Family Foundation our work is evolving alongside progress in the province. The Early Childhood Development Centres were a three year window to demonstrate and inform integrated early years service delivery. They are now rolling over into the new early years framework which is being adopted for the entire province. For those of you who entered this stage ahead of others; I hope you will continue to take every opportunity to transfer your knowledge to others.

This will be a big part of our continued role as well. We will be working with the department of education and communities to continue to share best practice in early childhood programming and professional development. As such we are no longer providing direct operational support to demonstration sites. We will see this current phase of research through to its conclusion. We will continue to bring expertise from across Canada and internationally to help build momentum.

Building and sustaining momentum is a shared responsibility. I hope you plan to  meet with your officials to share your findings and proposals. Not how your site should be an exception but how it fits into the new early years framework. With modern thinking and action I can see the Saint John Child Development Centre transforming itself from a demonstration site into a model program.

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