One-stop shop for children's health questions launched
Health: Group promotes early childhood development in foothills
By: By Tanya Kostiw
| Posted: Wednesday, Mar 07, 2012 12:08 pm
The early years are crucial for youngsters and a group has launched a program in the foothills in the hope all children have their health needs met.
The Foothills Children’s Wellness Network is a group of 20 local agencies and services raising awareness about the importance of a child’s first few years and how to promote healthy childhood development.
The first few years of a child’s life are when optimal brain development occurs and research has found these years impact not only learning and behaviour, but emotional and physical health and the chances of juvenile delinquency and chronic diseases, said Lise Brisebois Blouin, chair of the network’s steering committee.
A proper foundation is critical for children, just like it is for a house, she explained.
“If your foundation is cracked or is unstable, it doesn’t matter what the other work done in the house is, that foundation makes the whole house or the whole child more at risk,” she said.
Supporting early childhood development also benefits communities, Brisebois Blouin added.
“Investing wisely in children and families ensures future generations of productive, responsible citizens,” she said.
Dr. Frank Friesen is a paediatrician at the Okotoks Health and Wellness Centre and a member of the network. He said it is a well-established fact that the foundations of adulthood are laid down in childhood.
If a child has a learning disability, it should be addressed when the child is pre-school aged, he said.
“We really want to ensure that these children grow up with as much ability to function and be successful adults,” Friesen said.
The network consists of groups such as Family and Community Support Services, Foothills Special Needs Association for Parents and Siblings, Literacy for Life and local school divisions, which together take a holistic approach to recognizing early issues and promoting services and good health, he added.
“I think this is a remarkable activity that is going on and it really is a remarkably collaborative effort with community partnerships to enhance these services,” Friesen said.
Another goal of the network is to help build services aimed at young children and families and help people access them, said Brisebois Blouin.
The network has launched its website, which is still under construction, but Brisebois Blouin said she hopes it will become an important tool for people to connect to resources and information and list activities promoting early childhood development.
The group also distributes an electronic newsletter targeting parents of children up to three years old and provides weekly information for a specific age group and resources, she said.
All members work on the network’s initiatives, but one part-time and two full-time staff members were hired to help move the program forward, said Brisebois Blouin.
People can contact the navigator at the Foothills Children’s Wellness Network for information on resources, although anyone at the network can help, she said. Other staff members include a clerical position and a community development coordinator working on prevention and promotion strategies.
The network has been able to secure $150,000 from the Sheep River Health Trust for its navigator position and received support from the Primary Care Network, a provincial grant and its members offer time in lieu service. Support from the members will continue on an ongoing basis and some of the financial support was given under the premise the network would figure out how to sustain it. However, the network does not have a guaranteed funding source every year, said Brisebois Blouin.
“As we go forward, we’re looking at how do we keep growing this and make it sustainable,” she said. “So no we’re not here today, gone tomorrow. We’re here to stay and how we do that, again, it’s all of the members figuring that out.”
Brisebois Blouin said there are other initiatives in the province and across the country with similar aspects, but she said this group is unique because of how committed and engaged members are and because many of them have worked together in the past.
“I think this is the best example of community development and community initiative that I’ve ever seen or heard of even in the research,” she said. “So I can’t commend the membership any more, they just are stars.”
For more information visit foothillsnetwork.ca or call 403-995-2702.