Input offered on ‘Best Start’

About 20 local parents and child care workers offered their input on what they feel would improve child care in Fort Frances during a consultation for the new provincial “Best Start” initiative here last Thursday evening.
Jeannette Cawston, “Best Start” co-ordinator with the Rainy River District Social Services Administration Board, led the session, describing what “Best Start” is and what the DSSAB wanted to learn from the public.
The aim of the program is to support children and their families in the early years of development—from birth through to Grade 1.
Cawston explained the Ministry of Children and Youth Services is calling for “neighbourhood early learning and care hubs” to provide child care and parenting programs, as well as screening, assessment, and treatment for speech and language disorders.
These hubs are meant to act as a “one-stop shop” for a child’s developmental needs. Early screening to identify potential needs and risks—such as a communication disorder—means they can be treated earlier.
When asked what they would like to see in an ideal “hub,” those on hand last Thursday offered the following input:
•extended hours for child care services as not all parents (e.g. shift workers) can go to work at 8 a.m. or get off work at 5 p.m.;
•a breakfast/supper program to coincide with extended hours;
•transportation to and from day care/school since some parents now can’t even afford to transport their children for before- and after-school child care, and school buses don’t always bring them there;
•handicap accessibility;
•a change in the “absenteeism” policy so that parents don’t have to pay for their children’s day care if they are sick, or not there for another reason, as they do now;
•cultural sensitivity not only for aboriginal clients, but those who might resist accessing certain social services (e.g. Family and Children’s Services) because of the stigma attached;
•more support of parenting skills/child development so parents can get a better idea if their child is developing properly, and whether they’re ready to enter JK/SK; and
•information sharing and marketing of child care services so all parents are aware of what services are available in Fort Frances, and options for accessing those services (e.g. fee subsidies).
Those on hand also gave their input on where a suitable location for a “hub” would be. Their answers included:
•the old Fort Frances High School (large property, central location, and parking area);
•the Fort Frances Children’s Complex (current site of day care and Early Years Centre, large property with room for expansion, not a busy street, lots of parking, and accessible if a suitable transportation system is developed; and
•at their child’s respective elementary school if free transportation can’t be guaranteed.
Kim Gardiman, child services manager for the local DSSAB, noted while the “Best Start” program does not normally include transportation under its funding formula, the board is including transportation as a considerable need for residents in the north.
It is hoping the province will make an exception when it comes to allowing some of the “Best Start” funds to be used for such.
Linda Wall, who chairs the Fort Frances Children’s Complex Advisory Committee, noted working with both local school boards on the transportation issue is crucial to answering problems here.
In Dryden, she noted, a bus from every school goes to the day care there each morning to pick up respective students.
When asked what they felt were the most significant barriers to accomplishing the “Best Start” vision here, transportation and cultural sensitivity again were mentioned, as well as involvement by the municipal government.
Wall noted municipal councils must be assured the province will provide 100 percent funding for the long-term with the “Best Start” initiative, as municipalities won’t show support for something which only will be downloaded onto them in a few years like many other services (public health, etc.) have been in the past.
Cawston noted all the comments would be recorded and taken into consideration, adding another public consultation meeting will be held sometime next month, at which time she will have compiled the input provided by communities across the district.
This consultation session was one of many that have been held over the past month in other communities in the district and with various partner agencies.
District school boards and service providers already have signed on to be partners in this initiative.
These include the Rainy River District School Board, the Northwest Catholic District School Board, the Mine Centre District School Area Board, the Atikokan Roman Catholic Separate School Board, le Conseil scolaire du district du Grand Nord de l’Ontario, and the Northwestern Health Unit, along with the DSSAB.
Taking in all the input from the partners, a Phase I integrated implementation plan must be submitted to the Ministry of Children and Youth Services by Dec. 31.
In the meantime, anyone who wants to learn more about “Best Start” and get involved in a working group, can contact Cawston at 274-5349 ext. 13.
For more info on “Best Start,” check out DSSAB’s website at www.rrdssab.ca

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