How can businesses be better employers to parents, especially ones with children who have extra needs? How can funders support programs and projects that will impact children in important ways? How can city council members and other policy-makers make decisions that are beneficial to everyday families, and families who have children with extra needs, and make this the best place to raise a family?

Julia Stockhausen asks these questions. She’s the Infant Development Program Manager with Kootenay Family Place and a Board member of the Family Action Network (FAN), a hub for family resources in the Lower Columbia. And she’s excited by a new project that will provide data to support informed decisions.

Spearheaded by FAN, the project will reveal more about the everyday experiences and needs of young children in the Castlegar and Trail region—one which will hopefully have positive impacts elsewhere in the Columbia Basin, and beyond.

With support from the Trust, the Vancouver Foundation and Teck Metals Ltd., FAN is partnering with the Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) at the University of British Columbia. Over the next year, the aim is to gather information from as many local families as possible with children one to two years of age. The data will be collected through two tools: the Ages & Stages Questionnaire, which gives parents an immediate snapshot of their child’s development, and the Toddler Development Instrument, a parent questionnaire, which collects information about the experiences and needs of children and their families both at home and within their communities.

Christy Anderson is FAN’s Executive Director. Right now, she says, “there is no consistent gathering of information about how our children are doing before they enter the school system.” For example, is the child demonstrating age-appropriate skills in communicating with others, interacting socially or solving problems? What do we know about a child’s early experiences and the wellness of their families? “If we had that information, how could we tailor early childhood programming or services to best support known areas of need?”

With support over the last few years from the Trust, FAN was able to help equip local family service providers—such as StrongStart facilitators and child care providers—so they’re ready to offer the questionnaires. This includes training for the service providers and providing other resources that let children demonstrate their milestones there and then. FAN has also reached out to parents to reinforce the importance of early childhood development, including through an online video.

Beginning April 1st, 2019, parents can connect to family service providers in the Castlegar and Trail communities to participate in the study and complete the questionnaires.

Once FAN has collected the responses, HELP will analyze them and the data will be presented back to our communities. Anderson says, “We’ll see a very holistic picture of the developmental health and experiences of children between the ages of 1 and 2 years old and also of family wellness.  In sharing this information with stakeholder groups and decision makers in our communities, we can collaboratively discuss how we could better support families.”

If this pilot project works well, the lessons learned can be extended to other areas in the Basin, and the province, so they too can know the state of their young children.

“When we invest in early childhood development,” says Anderson, “amazing things can happen.”

Learn more about the work of FAN.