Early Childhood Care and Development Programs as Hook and Hub for Inter-sectoral Service Delivery in First Nations Communities
Jessica Ball University of Victoria School of Child and Youth Care
Consistent with recommendations in the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples, many Aboriginal communities are investing in early education, cultural transmission, and health for the youngest generation to secure the future well-being of their communities. A demographically young Aboriginal population–combined with a wish to support parents pursuing education, employment, and healing–has led many communities to prioritize early childhood care and development programs. This paper reports findings of a research study of promising practices in three groups of rural First Nations that are building integrated service models centred around early childhood care and development programs as part of their community development approach. The findings suggest a conceptual model of early childhood care and development programs as a hook for mobilizing community involvement in supporting young children and families and as a hub for meeting a range of service and social support needs of community members. Child care and development programs in these communities include strong emphases on culture, socialization, English and heritage language proficiency, and nutrition. Co-location of child care with other services enables ready access to health monitoring and care, screening for special services and early interventions. Once parents are involved in bringing a child to a community centre-based program, many learn about and access programs for themselves and other family members. The research showed how multi-purpose, community-based service centres can become a focal point for social cohesion and can provide a cultural frame around service usage that informs external service providers and offers cultural safety for community members.