Children's Charter places greater focus on early childhood development

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A commitment to give young children improved developmental opportunities was pledged during the unveiling of a Children's Charter by the Southwest Early Childhood Action Coalition.

During a special unveiling ceremony in Swift Current on Nov. 20, the community got their first look at the document prepared by the Southwest Early Childhood Action Coalition (ECAC) and Southwest Regional Intersectoral Committee (RIC). The Children's Charter serves as a guide to the region's foundational strategy for delivering positive early childhood opportunities and is an important foundation document in moving their goals forward.

"We see this as a springboard to our future work in the Southwest, both in the city and in the rural areas. We’re hoping to use this to gain momentum for looking at continuing to develop initiatives in the Southwest for children and their families, so that we can promote promising futures for families," explained Lisa Kuntz, Southwest Early Childhood Action Coalition Co-chair.

"We know that zero to five is the prime time for brain activity for children or for human beings, and so we want to make sure that we’re giving them the best opportunities to develop their brain. That’s really the focus," she added.

The Children's Charter recognizes the following universal rights of children from across the Southwest during their early years:

- Right to Basic Needs;

- Right to Be Safe;

- Right to Overall Well-Being;

- Right to Play and Learn;

- Right to Belong;

- Right to Be You;

- Right to Be and Feel Loved.

The recognition of the need to have a focussed priority on early childhood development was initiated by the strategic planning committee of the Southwest Regional Intersectoral Committee (RIC) in May 2012. A number of groups and stakeholder organizations were brought together to work cooperatively towards developing the Children's Charter as a guiding document.

"We know that supporting families in the early years benefits the whole society," RIC co-chairperson Melinda Baum told the audience at the launch event last Wednesday. "Research shows that toxic stress in the earliest years of a child's life reduces their ability to make positive choices for the whole rest of their lives, and really that impacts all of us."

Announced as a part of National Children’s Day on November 20, formal Children's Charters have also been adopted by other coalitions in the province to show their commitment to work together to improving early childhood opportunities.

"One of the key things we looked at for instance was the Right to Play. So having people have an understanding of what play means and do we have access to play opportunities throughout the Southwest for children and their families," Kuntz pointed out. "So in hockey rinks for instance, a lot of children spend time at the rinks, so do we have books for kids to read while they’re in a hockey rink? Do we have things that they can play with while they’re there? The siblings come along while the older sibling is playing hockey, what do those children get to play? Do we have mobile playgrounds in our communities for children to access? We have lots of things, but there certainly are some gaps.

"Another area to look at is early learning opportunities and looking at childcare from a different perspective. Do we have those available for children so that they’re not spending all their time plugged into things but they’re actually engaged in things, giving them the opportunity to be competent and capable individuals that they are."

Elizabeth Laverdiere, Family Advocacy Worker and Southwest Early Childhood Action Coalition Co-chair, explained that this formalized document also encourages groups and agencies to work together towards this focussed objective.

"The charter gives us an opportunity, multiple agencies who are already working with families to have a united front. The more we work together and can say these are the things we are working with, will only have a direct impact on the families together. We’re definitely hoping to have practical and real outcomes for this that will directly be towards families in the whole region," Laverdiere said.

"We have everybody from all the different ministries, all the points of entry that families could get involved with, we have them at the table, so that we are making sure that resources are available for all these families. All the things that we have from the charter, all the work that we do is affecting all families. But there are challenges, so we have to get creative when we enter into a community, as to how we’re going to reach those families who maybe aren’t accessing resources and supports like we would hope them to be."

Across the Cypress Health Region the Children's Charter is scheduled to also be launched in Shaunavon, Gull Lake, Maple Creek, Herbert, Leader and Ponteix as they work to mobilize the rural communities as well.

"Our first priority is doing mini launches like these in other communities, and then from there, taking articles from the charter and honing in on maybe one or two a year, and assessing the community, assessing the region as to how we are doing. No, we can’t fix it all in one day or in one year at all, but we can hone in on a couple and really try to see what gaps we could be filling and how to do that," Laverdiere added.

Laverdiere said in addition to improving services, families also need to be made aware of the services that do exist.

"I think, from the family advocacy position, is families being aware as to what supports and services are available and what they are entitled to. A lot of families, if they don’t know what’s out there, they won’t access it. Just because the program is there, doesn’t mean people are using it. There’s a lot of people have to word by mouth for promotion and stuff, so the biggest need would be, in my opinion, accessing services and being made known what are the qualifications for those services."

Organizations: Southwest Regional Intersectoral Committee, Southwest Early Childhood Action Coalition

Geographic location: Swift Current, Shaunavon, Gull Lake Maple Creek Ponteix Herbert Leader

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