Early childhood is a time of intense learning which sets a foundation for a healthy and a fulfilling life. We know that a child’s early experiences shape their brain development. We also know that making sure parents have quality practical information, support and access to early interventions all contribute to giving a child the best possible start in life.
It can sometimes be a challenge for parents to identify and find the right services, program or child care option for their needs. In 2013, the BC Government set out its ‘Early Years Strategy,’ an eight year commitment to improving the accessibility, affordability and quality of early-years programs and services for families with young children.
One of the keys was to develop a network of BC Early Years Centres (EYC) across the province. Today there are 26 Early Years Centres around BC. They offer convenient, one-stop access to information, services and referrals for families. The centres exist in schools, Child Development Centres, Recreation Centers, storefronts, local not-for-profit service provider locations and even as mobile ‘sites.’
One of the first twelve communities selected to host an Early Learning Centre was the Sunshine Coast. This was, in part, a result of “years of collaboration by the Sunshine Coast Early Years Council,” explains the local Project Coordinator, Sue Lamb.
The Sunshine Coast Centre includes 3 sites (Gibsons, Sechelt and Madeira Park) and scheduled visits by individual health practitioners have enhanced its second year of operations. These include Public Health Nurses, Dietician, Sensory Screener, Speech and Language therapists, Dental Hygienist, Tobacco Reduction Coordinator, Occupational Therapists, and Child and Youth Mental Health counsellors. All contribute to the information and services focussed on young children’s development.
Developing an initiative to establish an EYC and to maximize its role in the community relies heavily on feedback from parents. This is a key element for generating ideas on how to include families in activities and for creating the educational opportunities that will enrich projects. Each community has its own unique ways to communicate, but all are important to the work of the Centres.
Creating a convenient, one-stop location that offers seamless service to families requires cooperation among agencies such as School Districts, Health, Parks and Recreation, Libraries, and Community Service organizations. The goal of helping children achieve their full potential by investing in the early years can be the force that drives this cooperation. After all, helping a child develop into a successful, healthy adult is not only good for them, it is good for the community as a whole.
Written by Dr. Paul Martiquet, Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.