INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

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About Best Start

Best Start, announced in 2004, describes the government's vision of an Ontario in which children are ready and eager to achieve success in school by the time they start Grade One. Best Start is a universal strategy. It is intended to support the optimal development of all children, while remaining mindful of the needs of vulnerable children.

A key goal of Best Start is to bring community services together in a comprehensive, flexible, integrated and seamless way so that children and their parents can access the services they need in a timely and effective fashion. As a result of Best Start, more and more communities have improved coordination and collaboration with greater linkages and better information for families. We must now take steps to move beyond collaboration and toward the fundamental changes necessary to achieve the goals of Best Start through the development of Ontario Best Start Child and Family Centres (Best Start Centres).

The key challenge: integration

There are many programs and services available throughout the province that meet the specific needs of children and their families. However, they have typically been developed in isolation, and have not necessarily been connected to other services in their communities. In addition, these services have their own eligibility criteria, intake processes, funding streams and governance approaches to planning for and providing services.

As a result, parents are not always aware of the services available in the community, and do not always know where to go to get the help or information they need. Likewise, service organizations themselves may not be linked in any cohesive or consistent way. This approach is ineffecient but, equally important, potentially confusing and frustrating for parents, who often have to "navigate" the system on their own. Providing children and families with timely and effective supports means we have to address the current fragmentation, neighbourhood by neighbourhood, community by community, and region by region, and move toward a provincially coordinated child and family system. Community leaders need and want guidance regarding what integration really means. They also need key benchmarks and indicators that they can use to measure their progress. Section four of this update makes note of upcoming working papers that will provide insight into various aspects of integration.

Our progress at the community level also depends on adopting a horizontal approach to serving children and families within and across the government to overcome the fragmentation that exists at the provincial level.