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MOVING FORWARD

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A province-wide partnership

As we progress from the preliminary phase of this complex work, we are confident that much progress has been made toward a truly integrated system of children's services. The working vision and guiding principles presented in this update, and the initial work toward building a common language and understanding of integration itself, are offered as important starting points for shared reflection, discussion and planning at every level of the system.

We will continue working toward a fuller, more concise and more widely understood articulation of the Best Start Centres concept as we develop the critically important provincial framework. In this regard, there is important work yet to be done – for example, in the areas of shared outcomes, common quality and accountability mechanisms, and governance – and we are committed to working with communities and stakeholders to continue this work. As we move forward, we will create additional opportunities for feedback that allow us to stay connected to parents, service providers and community organizations.

Building a common language will be an important next step as communities in Ontario move toward an integrated child and family services sytem. There are a series of additional working papers, including a paper on understanding various aspects of integration, being developed. They will be available on a sector specific site geared to service providers, program administrators and planners. As the site develops, it will offer materials that explore concepts central to the Best Start Centres initiative – such as those described in the guiding principles – and feature successful strategies, activities and processes that have helped communities progress toward integration.

Next steps

As we move this initiative forward, we will focus initially on the following three key building blocks:

Implementing community action research

The Community Action Research project is a two-pronged approach to studying and learning from communities as we continue to develop the Best Start Centres concept. A series of reports and best practice documents will be made available so that groups across the province can learn from, and implement, successful strategies developed and tested in other communities.

The Community Integration Leader project will monitor and learn from a small group of communities that have already taken significant steps toward creating a seamless, integrated system of services as they progress in their broad community-wide integration efforts. This project will:

The Innovation Fund will provide one-time, small-scale funding to support community groups in undertaking specific, focused work in core areas related to integration, with the goal of developing innovative strategies that can be applied in communities across Ontario. The Innovation Fund will support projects related to integrated services in eight core areas including:

Re-engineering speech and language services

We have chosen to re-engineer a selected service at the provincial level in a way that will immediately assist all communities but, at the same time, provide the government with a shared cross-ministry integration experience. Speech and language services were chosen because of the fundamental impact that speech and language functions play in a child's development.

Speech and language delays/disorders in children are common and can lead to decreased academic achievement and life outcomes. Evidence shows that there are windows of opportunity for language and literacy learning during which children/students can develop optimal abilities in these two areas and, after which, successful remediation of delays becomes more challenging. These windows are:

Speech and/or language services are provided through three ministries – the Ministry of Children and Youth Services, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. This fragmented service structure can lead to service gaps for children, confusion for families, duplicate assessments, and delays in receiving services.

Re-engineering fragmented provincial speech and language services is pivotal to improving early learning and literacy outcomes for Ontario's children. The three ministries are partnering to explore, implement and evaluate various speech and language service delivery models and approaches for children/students from birth to the end of Grade 3, to inform a future provincial vision. This work has been informed by the External Reference Group and other experts and providers who will continue to advise on this important element of the overall process of developing Best Start Centres in Ontario.

Developing an outcomes index

An Outcomes Index will build on existing data collection instruments like the Early Development Instrument (EDI; Offord and Janus, McMaster University) and Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO) to more broadly measure and monitor child, family, community and social outcomes as well as broader system functioning outcomes. The index will allow transparent reporting of these outcomes at the community, regional and provincial level to mark progress and point to continuous improvement efforts both locally and provincially.

Developing the Outcomes Index represents a major undertaking that will provide a critical element of the provincial framework. The process will engage experts in the areas of child, family, community and social and economic/fiscal outcomes, and experts in the areas of program evaluation and system performance measures.

Conclusion

The future we build for our children is the future we build for ourselves as a society. Realizing the vision of Ontario Best Start Child and Family Centres is vitally important to our social and economic wellbeing, particularly in a diverse Ontario, and an increasingly global and knowledge-driven economy.

The government is commited to providing strong leadership, and working across ministries to eliminate fragmented policy making and program development. We likewise recognize – and deeply respect – the many hundreds of organizations and individuals who make a difference for Ontario's children every day, and whose partnership and commitment will be the vital underpinning of our success.

We will continue to consult with parents, communities and service providers as the Best Start Centres concept continues to evolve. We are also mindful that much important work remains if we are to further engage Aboriginal, Francophone and other communities and ensure that every child in Ontario, without exception, is given the best possible start in life.

We acknowledge with thanks the involvement of many organizations and individuals whose perspectives and experiences are reflected in this document, and will continue to inform our future work. While there are many obstacles to overcome, it is clear that we are excited to move forward with this truly transformational work. Through partnership, commitment, and a shared sense of purpose, we will achieve our shared vision of a truly integrated system of services that best serves children and families and inspires the best future for all Ontarians.