15 Minutes of Fun - Family Literacy Day January 27th

As an early childhood professional, Family Literacy Day has always been an important date to remember and an opportunity to share information with the families I work with. For the past two years however, this day has had more personal significance for me as the parent of a young child.

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Every child in our community deserves to grow up feeling happy, healthy and loved

Did you know that in the Alberta Capital Region, one of the most prosperous communities in Canada, more than 41,000 children live in poverty. That is enough children to fill Rexall Place two and half times. Each month more than 15,000 people in the Edmonton area receive support from local food banks, 53% of those assisted are households with children.

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Keeping Our Community Warm

As we launch into another Coats for Kids & Families campaign, I am blown away by the generosity of this community. For over 20 years, we have come together to provide warm winter coats and outerwear to our neighbours in need.

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New Partners for Mental Health Campaign

Despite more than 1 in 5 youth needing mental health services, less than 25% actually receive them. Instead, many suffer in silence due to the shame, stigma and lack of care that exists.

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How Investments in Early Childhood Can Help Increase Graduation Rates

The next few weeks will represent a milestone in the lives of many Alberta students – high school graduation!  Finishing high school can be a very exciting time as graduates begin to explore the many opportunities that lie ahead.  But for the 9000 students a year who don’t graduate from high school in Alberta, the outlook can be much different and the future a little less bright.  That is because not finishing high school is associated with:

  • Higher levels of unemployment and lower earnings when employed;
  • Poorer health and higher levels of risky health behaviour such as smoking or having low levels of physical activity; and
  • Greater use of social assistance, public services and subsidies.

It is estimated that Alberta’s annual high school drop outs cost the province $142 million per year in unemployment, lost tax revenue, social assistance, judicial system and health care costs.

United Way is committed to increasing the high school completion rates in Alberta by investing in children and youth, starting from conception to adulthood.  Some may wonder, “How can investments in babies and young children change graduation rates?”  Research shows that every dollar spent in the early years (0-6) on quality learning, development, parenting and care programs brings significant future returns compared to money spent on later interventions (see chart below).  It also tells us that children whose development is nurtured early in life are more likely to be successful in school and are more likely to finish high school and seek further education or training.  Through initiatives such as Success By 6®, United Way is educating our community on the benefits of a strong and healthy start to life.

New data from ECMap, a five-year research and community-building project funded by the Government of Alberta, shows that in Alberta from 2009 to 2011 combined EDI data for more than 40,000 kindergarten children indicates that 27 per cent of Alberta children are experiencing great difficulty in one or more areas of development when entering school. The Canadian norm is 25 per cent. This means that they may struggle to hold a pencil, play cooperatively with their peers, tell a short story about their day, or follow classroom instructions.  Research also shows that children who start school behind often have difficulty catching up to their peers and are at higher risk of becoming disengaged and dropping out.  These facts and figures help to highlight the importance of all children entering school with the tools and supports they need to be successful.

High school graduation rates is an issue that affects all Albertans, however if we work together we CAN make a change.  If we act NOW and invest in prevention, we can ensure that all children enter school ready to learn and remain supported throughout their entire school journey.  As the 2011 report, Shaping Alberta’s Future: Report of the Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy states, “Early childhood development is a critical issue for the whole community. It should be a matter of intense interest to government, business and economic leaders, as well as educators, health care providers, social service agencies, parents and families. What children experience in the womb and before the age of six has a lifelong impact on their ability to participate in the economy and in society. Ensuring every child receives the best possible start is therefore an important investment in the future prosperity and quality of life for all in the province.”

Angela Dorval is a Communications Specialist for Success By 6®, a community initiative managed by United Way, focused on ensuring all children from 0-6 years have the supports they need for a lifetime of healthy growth and development.


We All Have Mental Health- Even Babies!

Success By 6® helped fund a survey conducted by the Alberta Centre for Child, Family & Community Research (ACCFCR) that explored “What Adults Know about Child Development.” The purpose of the survey was to identify gaps in understanding about a child’s development in order to help inform programs and services available to families with young children. The survey asked questions about the following areas of a child’s development: Physical, Cognitive, Social and Emotional.  (See below for definitions).

The results showed that many adults had an understanding of how to meet a child’s physical needs but a very few were aware of how to meet their many emotional needs. In fact, 30% of respondents answered at least half of the questions about physical development correctly as compared to less than 2% who answered at least half of the questions about emotional development correctly.  According to the Centre on the Developing Child Harvard University (CDCHU), “Early emotional development lays the foundation for later academic performance, mental health, and the capacity to form successful relationships.”

I can’t say I’m surprised at the results; as a parent to a 16 month old it is often very difficult to know how to support my son’s emotional well-being especially because he can’t yet tell me what’s wrong or how he’s feeling.  However, what I have learned is that through behaviours that start right at birth he is showing me his needs.  For instance, knowing that children have different cries for different needs and the importance of bonding through cuddling, eye-contact and touch are ways of showing and responding to emotional needs.

A report prepared in 2010 for the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative supported by the Norlien Foundation looked at “How Albertans Think About Child Mental Health.” The study found that many respondents often reasoned that children can’t experience mental health because of their lack of emotional development. However, new research shows the opposite is true, a study done by the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child at Harvard University found that, “Young children are capable of surprisingly deep and intense feelings of sadness (includ­ing depression), grief, anxiety, and anger (which can result in unmanageable aggres­sion), in addition to the heights of joy and hap­piness for which they are better known. For some children, the preschool years mark the beginning of enduring emotional dif­ficulties and mental-health problems that may become more severe than earlier genera­tions of parents and clinicians ever suspected.”

United Way of the Alberta Capital Region and Success By 6® supports awareness about mental health issues by providing funding to local agencies and by helping fund new research.  The goal is help prevent mental health problems, to reduce stigma about mental illness and to help support proper treatments.

Supporting a child’s emotional development isn’t always easy and the ACCFCR survey suggests that there is a lack of information and resources available to parents and caregivers in this area.  However, as new research emerges about early brain development and the linkages between mental health, the community can begin to respond by developing new programs and services.

MENTAL HEALTH WEEK IS MAY 7-13 visit the Canadian Mental Health Association to find out more.

Angela Dorval is a Communications Specialist for Success By 6®, a community initiative managed by United Way, focused on ensuring all children from 0-6 years have the supports they need for a lifetime of healthy growth and development.



Emotional Development:  Learning to express emotions in response to events and experiences at age-appropriate level and to empathize. Learning to understand one’s own feelings and appropriate ways of expressing them.

Social Development: Learning to play and get along with others.  Showing self-confidence and being curious about the world.  Interacting successfully with others.

Physical Development: Physical development of the body including the development of both gross and fine motor skills at an age-appropriate level (ex. Sitting, crawling, walking, picking up objects).

Cognitive Development: The ability to learn and use of language.  The ability to reason, problem-solve, and organize ideas.


Resources for Families & Professionals:

Alberta Health Services -

Canadian Mental Health Association – Edmonton Region

Child and Youth Mental Health Information Network


The Alberta Centre for Child, Family and Community Research (2008). Alberta Benchmark Survey: What Adults Know About Child Development.

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (2004).Children’s Emotional Development Is Built into the Architecture of Their Brains, Working Paper 2. Center on the Developing Child Harvard University.

A Frameworks Research Report, prepared by Nat Kendall-Taylor (2010). Kids Must Have Mental Health…But They Can’t, Can They?” How Albertans Think About Child Mental Health.  Norlien Foundation Alberta Family Wellness Initiative.


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