Ontario’s Best Start Plan
The McGuinty government’s Best Start plan for child care, early learning and healthy development is helping more children arrive in Grade 1 ready to learn. The plan, which supports children prenatal through to age six and their families, provides vital services that support a child’s development, including infant hearing programs, preschool speech and language programs and other supports.
Best Start also includes an expansion of Ontario’s regulated system of early learning and quality, affordable child care. Almost 15,000 new licensed child care spaces province-wide have been created as part of Best Start.
EARLY CHILDHOOD HEALTHY DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS
New Blind-Low Vision Early Intervention Program
- Family-centred services will be available through this program for children from birth to Grade 1 who are blind or have low vision.
- A $1.8 million annual investment supports the new program.
Expanded Preschool Speech and Language Program (PSL) and Infant Hearing Program (IHP)
- These two programs provide early identification and supports to young children and their families to help identify and treat hearing or speech and language problems. Both programs will now be available to eligible children through to Grade 1.
- $4.2 million will expand the Preschool Speech and Language Program to include those senior kindergarten-aged children who are unable to attend school. It will also support assessment and intervention services for children from birth to school entry, and enhance parent and caregiver training in early literacy.
- $1.1 million will extend the Infant Hearing Program to include children aged 2 ½ through senior kindergarten who are identified as deaf or hard of hearing.
- The new investment will provide supports for about 1,500 additional children. More than 75,000 children will now receive support through the PSL program annually. Over 95% of the 130,000 babies born in the province each year are screened for hearing impairment through the IHP program.
- PSL services are delivered through agencies province-wide including hospitals, local health units, children’s treatment centres, Ontario Early Years centres and children’s mental health facilities. IHP is coordinated through 12 of the PSL agencies.
Healthy Babies Healthy Children
- An additional $2.5 million supports program delivery through public health units
- The program provides:
- screening for new mothers by nurses in hospital or by midwives
- a phone call and offer of a home visit by a public health nurse to new mothers shortly after discharge from hospital
- Intensive home visiting services by a public health nurse and lay home visitor for those families identified at risk.
- referrals to services such as breastfeeding, nutrition and health services, play and parenting programs, and child care services, for all families with children up to age six.
Free access to child development tool
- Ontario has acquired the licence to share a helpful child screening tool with Ontario’s parents at no charge.
- The Nipissing District Developmental Screen or NDDS is available free through the internet at www.ndds.ca; it was previously available for parents, health care programs and service providers by purchase.
- The NDDS is a developmental checklist for parents to help them better understand how their child is growing and developing and learn ways to support their development. Parents can use it to discuss their child’s development with their health care provider at the 18-month well-baby visit, or before, if they have concerns.