Mr. Speaker, this Assembly’s vision of healthy, educated people contributing to a strong and prosperous Northern society starts in early childhood. The Departments of Education, Culture and Employment and Health and Social Services have worked collaboratively to craft a renewed Early Childhood Development Action Plan based on best practices, national and international research, and the wisdom of our Elders.
This Action Plan is the companion document to the Early Childhood Development Framework tabled in May 2013, and we will be tabling it later today.
The Framework identified the need to emphasize the whole family, improve and expand existing services, and improve communication and awareness of available services. It also identified the need for qualified and dedicated staff, culturally appropriate services and in some cases, increased funding. The Framework built on existing successful programs, including the Healthy Family Program.
Mr. Speaker, based on the seven commitments made in the Framework, our departments have identified 22 areas for action that will show results over time. A major focus of the Action Plan is healthy development in the 0-3 age group. It identifies how we will implement new programs, or strengthen existing programs, to support this age group right from prenatal and healthy infancy through to early intervention programs.
The Action Plan calls for the establishment of regional early intervention workers, who will work with families at risk to support and promote healthy child development.
Another priority will be educating parents on the importance of early childhood development.
However, we also realize that those in greatest need are often the ones who do not take advantage of facility-based programs, whether they are offered in a health centre, a Child and Family Resource Centre, or a day care program. If we are going to truly make a difference, we need to improve our ability to reach the parents and caregivers who are at risk – including pregnant moms, and parents and caregivers suffering from addictions issues.
We need to change the way we do business so that we can improve our ability to reach those families. We will refocus our communications and social marketing campaigns to connect with those families in ways that address their needs and concerns.
We will work through our regional wellness staff and in partnership with other regional and community stakeholders to build on existing community wellness plans, and promote local initiatives that engage families at risk. This can only be done through a collaborative inter-agency approach.
We will also review job descriptions of key community staff, including community health representatives, to build in a greater emphasis on community work in this area.
Mr. Speaker, we must gradually develop new programs and services based on evidence. We will pay close attention to the results of the one-time baseline assessment of children born in 2009 and identify areas where more formal programming may be required to address gaps.
Mr. Speaker, healthy, educated people enjoying the benefits of a thriving economy are essential to the future of the Northwest Territories. Investing in our young children is one of our most valuable investments – it is through early intervention, development and education that our children will grow into healthy, productive adults. We must provide them with a strong foundation on which to learn and grow, and support our families, caregivers, professionals and communities with the information, resources and services needed to provide that foundation.
Our Action Plan is one of several strategies this government is working on to support our people and develop our economy, including the Anti-Poverty Strategy, Mental Health and Addictions Report, and Education Renewal initiative. We look forward to keeping the House informed on implementation and results of the Early Childhood Development Action Plan.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.