© Times-Herald photo by Lisa Goudy
Moose Jaw South Central Regional Intersectoral Committee (RIC) member and early learning consultant Melody Mitchell addresses council about early childhood development in Moose Jaw as RIC co-ordinator Christine Boyczuk and Prairie South School Division superintendent of learning Lori Meyer look on.
While more children who grow up in poverty are vulnerable, the greatest number of vulnerable children come from middle-income homes, according to the Regional Intersectoral Committee (RIC).
At Tuesday’s council meeting, Christine Boyczuk, co-ordinator of the RIC, Melody Mitchell, RIC member and early learning consultant, and Lori Meyer, Prairie South School Division superintendent of learning made a presentation to councillors about RIC’s initiatives to promote early childhood development.
Council unanimously received and filed the report.
“We wanted to emphasize that the first six years of a child’s life, which are many of the citizens of Moose Jaw, are critical,” said Boyczuk. “They lay the foundation for future health and success. All families need support with their young children at this stage and some more than others.”
Mitchell said brain development in children play an important role in their futures. For example, she said children born with cataracts that aren’t removed will never have normal sight.
“Experiences affect the way genes are expressed whether or not they’re turned on or turned off,” said Mitchell. “Research shows that like proteins, fats and vitamins, interactions with other people and objects are vital nutrients for the growing and developing brain and different experiences can cause the brain to develop in different ways.”
Boyczuk said the RIC wants to engage the community in the initiatives. There is a family resource centre on Hall Street West and another to open on South Hill. Boyczuk said the RIC would like to see a third centre open on the east side and one mobile centre.
She added the RIC would like to council officially adopt the children’s charter, which is a “helpful framework to address the needs of children.”
Meyer said it would be great if council could work toward “good family-based policy” and increase awareness. She said another thing for council to consider is impact of nutrition and diet, including the option of implementing healthy food and beverages in city facilities.
According to the Moose Jaw RIC in-hospital birth questionnaire (IHBQ) from November 2007 to March 2011, the overall IHBQ score for Moose Jaw’s RIC was 5.8 per cent compared to 13.8 per cent in all provincial RICs.
“What we want on this one is a low number. Low is good because that indicates the number of children through that (IHBQ) that are already demonstrating risk factors,” said Meyer.
Meyer also said 24.7 per cent of kids are not fully prepared to take advantage of what schools have to offer in kindergarten. Provincially 30.2 per cent of kids aren’t fully prepared and nationally 25.4 per cent of kids aren’t prepared by kindergarten.
“We are doing better than the total population of Saskatchewan and .. we’re right in line with the Canadian norms,” said Meyer. “But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t work to do.”
The RIC’s report to council said one out of every four kindergarten-age children have trouble with basic tasks such as following instructions, getting along with others and holding a crayon.
“Investing in the early years pays off. According to one estimate, every $1 invested in the early years saves $3 in spending for school-aged children and $8 for adult education,” the report said.
Boyczuk said RIC aims to ensure all kids have the chance to reach their full potential by enhancing services such as housing, nutrition, childcare and recreation.
“Our plan is to create connected networks rooted in communities to build a systematic approach to early childhood development that ensures that every baby, toddler child and their family has access to high quality programs and services,” said Boyczuk.
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Sidebar: Early childhood development by the numbers
The Moose Jaw South Central Regional Intersectoral Committee (RIC) in-hospital birth questionnaire (IHBQ) from November 2007 to March 2011 indicated 41.5 per cent of parents had no prenatal course compared to 36.6 per cent in all of provincial RIC areas.
Further, 15.7 per cent in the local region smoked while pregnant compared to 21.7 per cent in the province. A total of 3.5 per cent had financial difficulties in the region compared to 15.6 per cent in Saskatchewan.
Approximately 7.3 per cent of people in the Moose Jaw RIC were a lone parent compared to 11.1 per cent in the province. In the local RIC, 4.5 per cent of births were from people under 19 years of age compared to nine per cent in the province.
Also 1.6 per cent of women had drugs or alcohol while pregnant in the Moose Jaw RIC compared to 6.5 per cent in all provincial RICs.
As outlined in the RIC’s report to council, the RIC is a “group of human service leaders who work to coordinate supports and services to the community.”
The work of the RIC influences programming, policies, funding and resources to meet residents’ needs in the area, particularly youth and families. Created in 1995, the Moose Jaw RIC is comprised of representatives from local provincial governments, health districts, school divisions, housing authority, SIAST, police, the Aboriginal Community and volunteers.
Some of the programs of the RIC include the Child Nutrition and Development Program Grant, Community Initiatives Fund and the Student Summer Works program.
Each child is born will billions of brain cells containing genes that make up the “blueprint for brain development,” the report said. It added a child’s relationships and environment affects the brain. It will respond and adapt to connect brain cells.
Those connections result in networks controlling physical, behavioural and cognitive functions. Some of those include hearing, vision, language, memory and learning.
The report said brain development is continuous in life, but is most impressionable and open to change in early childhood.