On February 19th, 2015, Success By 6® Edmonton hosted early childhood professionals from the Alberta Capital Region for a day of linking and leveraging. The group of 50 represented a continuum of supports for children; including early caregivers and educators, home visitors, government officials, funders, health care and mental health professionals, researchers and early intervention specialists. The focus for the day was exploring how as a province we can build adult capacity to support children’s social and emotional development.
Healthy social-emotional development in young children or early childhood mental health includes the ability to:
- Form and sustain positive relationships
- Experience, manage, and express emotions
- Explore and engage with the environment
The foundations of social competence which are developed in the first five years of life affect a child’s later ability to functionally adapt in school, form lasting relationships, become an effective parent, hold a job, work well with others, and become a contributing member of society. (Centre on the Developing Child Harvard University, 2004). Among the professionals at the Linking and Leveraging Day there was a shared consensus that it is important to dedicate our work to the development of the whole child.
Informing Our Work
The day began with presentations on current Alberta based research and a sampling of existing regional projects. We learned from the Alberta Centre for Child, Family & Community Research that the findings of their 2013 provincial benchmark survey indicate that a high percentage of adults are confident in their parenting skills yet have low knowledge of child development milestones.
We discovered that the Early Development Instrument (EDI) results indicate the percentage of children developing appropriately in all five areas of development varies a great deal from one community to another in Alberta, and a higher percentage of young children in Alberta are experiencing developmental difficulties as compared to the Canadian norm (www.ecmap.ca).
We found out about the ASaP continuum project and how the Teaching Pyramid Model provides training and support to enhance the skills, knowledge and confidence of early learning and care staff for meaningful inclusion of all children. MacEwan University shared that the much anticipated Early Learning and Child Care Curriculum Framework for Alberta is now available at www.childcareframework.com.
Many community initiatives are underway in Alberta all demonstrating a positive change in early years practice. The following were highlighted: The Relentless Connector, FIND (Filming Interactions to Nurture Development) a video coaching program, Respite Framework, City-Wide Coalitions, Aligning Early Years and End Poverty Edmonton. By using research, evidence based best practices, partnerships and collaborations we are seeing better solutions and improved outcomes for children and families.
For the second half of the day participants had the opportunity to reflect, brainstorm and share their thoughts on individual, organizational and collective next steps to build adult capacity around social and emotional competence. Mary Stewart, Interim Director of Education at the United Way related our work to the adage ‘getting everyone rowing in the same direction’.
As I listened and transcribed the discuss points one message was clear. Group members identified that in the Alberta early childhood landscape there are an abundant number of working groups, programs and resources but what is needed is a driving force at the helm. The next steps given the highest priority involved coordination of our efforts through key messages and common language, post-secondary education curriculums which include content on social-emotional development, a ministry for children, consistent and ongoing screening and evaluation, and knowledge translation to service providers and caregivers who need it the most.
Call to Action
It is our responsibility as parents, caregivers, agencies, and decision makers to create caring and socially responsible communities, that support consistent and responsive relationships free of toxic stress and full of play based learning. Often we can get caught up in the day to day but it is gathering opportunities like this that energize and remind us of the bigger picture and our role to play in being a champion for children!
Community Investment Specialist
United Way Alberta Capital Region