Fort Macleod council was urged last week to take an interest in the early development of children in the community.
Fort Macleod Early Child Development Coalition co-ordinator Kathy Karchuk put a twist on the popular saying that it takes a village to raise a child.
“I like to say it takes a child to raise a village because if we have healthy kids, we’ll have a healthy village,” Karchuk said.
Karchuk appeared as a delegation at the Jan. 27 council meeting.
The presentation is one of a series Karchuk has made to raise awareness about the coalition and the importance of positive experiences in a child’s early life.
“This is one of the last presentations that I’m going to be doing,” Karchuk said. “I really did want to do our community leaders at the end.”
Karchuk told council that in her work as co-ordinator she is often asked who should care about early child development.
“The answer is everyone,” Karchuk said. “Children are our future, and when we support children we support everyone.”
Research has provided new insight into the way that a child’s brain develops, and the importance of positive experiences early in life.
“We know now that it is a very step-by-step process as to how the brain is built,” Karchuk said. “Experiences that children have actually affect the physical architecture of the brain. If the child has positive experiences it wires them for a really healthy future.”
The opposite is also true, Karchuk noted. Poor experiences early in life wire a child’s brain in such a way that it will have implications later in life.
Children who experience abuse and stress early in life are likely to have problems later including difficulty with health, relationships, school, substance abuse and crime.
“We have an opportunity to really impact children,” Karchuk said.
Children develop skills at different times in life so it is crucial that they have positive experiences in safe, stimulating environments.
Parents, families, communities, business people, service providers, educators, policy-makers and government share in the responsibility of providing children with positive experiences.
“We know that we need to invest in kids,” Karchuk said.
That investment pays off later, according to research by Nobel Prize winner James Heckman, who maintains that every dollar invested in early childhood is equivalent to $3 spent on school-aged children and $8 spent on young adults.
“It’s pretty clear if we get it right at the beginning, we’re going to save a lot of money,” Karchuk said.
Karchuk updated council on the five-year early development instrument research project, which led to the establishment of the Fort Macleod coalition.
The skills of every child entering Kindergarten in Fort Macleod are evaluated through the early development instrument.
“Our goal is to look at this information, look at how our children are developing, and determine if there are some gaps in our services,” Karchuk said.
Results are calculated in the areas of physical health and well-being; social competence, emotional maturity; language and thinking skills; and communication skills and general knowledge.
While the majority of children are developing appropriately, the early development instrument revealed areas in which children are having difficulty.
The coalition has discussed with parents what the information means and what supports might be added.
The coalition has also held workshops on topics such as brain development and the value of play.
“We know that the main environment is determined by the family, but we can’t underestimate the role of the community and society at large,” Karchuk said.
The coalition’s funding ends in March, but the group is hopeful it will receive some more money to continue its work.