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June 13, 2003
For immediate release

Groups Meet to Study Healthy Child Development

Health and Social Services

Islanders working to enhance Healthy Child Development gathered in Slemon Park today for an annual learning event.

The Children's Working Group, the Understanding the Early Years Advisory Committee and the Understanding the Early Years Community Champions learned from Rory Francis, Deputy Minister of Health and Social Services, that the Partnerships for Children initiative would be extended. Partnerships for Children provides funding to Children's Working Group networks for projects which promote healthy outcomes for young children on PEI.

"We are pleased that this initiative has been extended," said Sterling Carruthers, Director of Kids West Family Resource Centre and a member of the Children's Working Group. "Through this support, networks implementing the key areas for action outlined in the PEI Healthy Child Development Strategy will be able to continue their efforts to improve child outcomes in Prince Edward Island."

Keynote speaker, Dr. Doug Willms, spoke to participants about research into the nature of children's environments within the family, and in their schools, neighbourhoods, and communities, and how these environments affect a child's cognitive and behavioral development.

"We need to shift our thinking," said Dr. Willms. "We have the perception that childhood vulnerability stems from poverty and single parenting, but vulnerability can be a result of all the environments in which children are raised. This way of thinking requires us to focus less on ameliorating risk factors and more on creating environments that support children's development."

J. Douglas Willms is a Professor and Director of the Canadian Research Institute for Social Policy at the University of New Brunswick. He holds the Canada Research Chair in Human Development at UNB and is a Research Fellow of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. Dr. Willms is the author of Monitoring School Performance: A Guide for Educators (Falmer Press), the co-editor of Schools, Classrooms, and Pupils: International Studies of Schooling from a Multilevel Perspective (Academic Press), the editor of Vulnerable Children: Findings from Canada's National Longitudinal Study of Children and Youth (University of Alberta Press), and over one hundred research articles and monographs pertaining to early childhood outcomes, youth literacy, the accountability of schooling systems, and the assessment of national reforms. He is also known for the training of new scholars in the analysis of large and complex data sets. He is currently leading a CIAR program, the New Investigators Network, which is examining the family, school and community factors that contribute to the health and well-being of Canadian children and adolescents.

Dr. Willms explained that parenting skills, the cohesiveness of the family unit, the mental health of the mother, and the extent to which parents engage with their children, are the important factors in determining a child's vulnerability.

"The social policy mandate is much broader than offering parenting programs, increasing counseling for adolescents and parents, or building more parks and playgrounds," said Dr. Willms. "We need to envisage a family-enabling society, and renew social policy such that families and communities receive the support they need to raise their children."

Dr. Willms is familiar with Prince Edward Island issues through his involvement in the Understanding the Early Years (UEY) project, a project of the Early Childhood Development Association of PEI, sponsored by Human Resources Development Canada in collaboration with Statistics Canada. The focus of the project is to learn whether children are ready to learn by age six, what challenges they face, and ways in which parents, communities and governments can help all children.

"We are fortunate to be involved in this project while we are working on the Healthy Child Development Strategy. Through both endeavours, we will learn a lot about how to best support child development on the Island," said Sarah Henry Gallant, UEY Project Coordinator. "UEY hopes to facilitate a knowledge-sharing process with all the networks involved with the Healthy Child Development Strategy. Accordingly, we have developed packages of materials for each network containing information that could be useful in developing policies and programs relevant to each network."

More than sixty participants took part in the learning event and enjoyed a lunchtime celebration of the Play Fair Kids initiative. Play Fair Kids is a project that promotes the development of the language of emotions and empathetic behaviour in children from ages three to six years old. The project's first phase included a 30-minute play presentation, family education materials and an educator resource kit. Phase two includes picture story books, audio CDs and "Story Sacks." For further information, please contact Play Fair Kids Committee Chairperson, Wendy Waite-Snow at 368-1866.

For more information or to become involved in the Children's Working Group networks, contact Janice Ployer, 368-6185.

Media Contact: Connie McNeill
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