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Community-government partnerships

Significant work has been done through community-government partnerships to explore and identify the opportunities and barriers we will encounter as we move toward implementation of the Best Start Centres concept.

For example, Best Start demonstration communities were identified to implement the Best Start vision at a more accelerated pace than would be possible province-wide. Through their work, we learned that integration is hard work and takes time and deeper understanding regarding systems change know-how is key. We also learned that some structures within the current service delivery model represent significant barriers to integration, and are difficult to overcome at the community level. Importantly, Best Start demonstration communities showed that progress toward integration was often the result of strong local leadership and trusting and respectful relationships among service providers.

It is important to note that, as part of this first phase of Best Start, all communities have made some progress toward integration. Ontario communities are no longer delivering programs and services in complete isolation.

Ontario Best Start Child and Family Centres

More recently, With Our Best Future in Mind: Implementing Early Learning in Ontario made recommendations for moving Ontario towards a seamless, integrated service system for children and families.

This provided high level direction on the role and functions of Best Start Centres and an overarching plan to offer timely and effective supports for parents and caregivers that would in turn support their children's early development.

The need for an early years system has resonated with service providers and municipalities. While widespread understanding of the practical implications of an integrated system is still a work in progress, some communities have taken very promising steps toward integration of services on their own, using existing resources.

Recent consultations: what we heard

A core component of the ministry's initial work on the Best Start Centres concept has been connecting and consulting with a wide variety of individuals, communities and stakeholder groups. Building on the extensive consultations undertaken to develop With Our Best Future in Mind, we hosted discussions with stakeholders, service professionals, administrators, and parents to deepen understanding about how this concept goes well beyond coordination and collaboration across service providers.

These groups have provided invaluable advice by describing their experiences and their vision for a stronger child and family services system:

We also received direct input from hundreds of individuals and organizations during our community visits, through letters and position papers, and by hosting expert workshops on governance and outcomes to start informing the work on a provincial framework.

What parents and caregivers told us

Parents and caregivers of children provided feedback through site consultations and through the ministry website. Over 80 % of online feedback was submitted by parents or caregivers. They told us:

  1. They find it difficult to navigate the current set of programs and services for young children.
    Parents reported that the current set of programs and services can be "a confusing maze". Some parents suggested adding "navigator" or "system coordinator" positions within communities to help parents navigate current services. Other parents understand that "navigation" should be embedded within a proper system.
  2. They rely on internet resources for information about programs and services.
    Many parents reported using the internet to find information about programs and services for their children. However, information on some websites is out of date and unreliable. Online information about provincially funded programs and services needs to be accurate and up-to-date.
  3. They have serious concerns about waiting for services.
    Many parents reported having to wait to gain access to early years services for their children. Parents reported that waiting for services was stressful and they were concerned that waiting was harmful to children's development.
  4. They want a more streamlined and efficient service experience.
    Parents only "want to tell their story once" to gain access to all of the programs and services they need for their children. Getting an assessment or a screening when they have a concern about their child's health or development should be easy to do, without multiple waitlists.
  5. They want an easily identifiable place (such as a physical centre or a website) where they know they can go to get the help they need.
    Parents reported not always knowing where to go to get help about their child's development. They want a clearly labeled, well-advertised place – in their community and on the internet – where they know they can go to get information or to access programs and services.
  6. They want consistent services no matter who they are or where they live.
    Parents in rural and northern locations told us that some services are unavailable in their communities. Parents in these communities felt there should be equitable services in all communities. Parents in Aboriginal and Francophone communities also highlighted the need to ensure that all services are culturally appropriate for Aboriginal and Francophone families.

“Sometimes it's just overwhelming to have to call all around and fill in a bunch of forms when you're dead tired or have limited time. Sometimes you just don't know where to go or what questions to ask.”

Parent of a 4 month old child, in an urban community in Central Ontario

Brayden's story

My son is developmentally delayed. Our journey started when my paediatrician wrote a referral. Someone from a local agency then called me and did an intake over the phone. After the initial referral, it took six months to be assigned a physical therapist then another six months to receive speech therapy. We have been waiting more than a year to have a resource teacher assigned to his preschool classroom.

There are so many unwritten and complicated rules about who gets services. There are rules about how long a child can get services from a specific department, what happens when the child starts school, and so on. There are too many rules and too much red tape to keep track of, and as a parent I shouldn't have to. The system is too fragmented. There are acronyms galore, departments that work with infants, departments that work with rehabilitation, departments that work with speech, that work with preschool, and so on. They overlap, yet no one really knows what the mandate of these different departments is. It makes for a difficult, confusing and inefficient system. This means that my son's needs might not always get met.

Summary of an online submission from a parent with a two-year old child living in an urban community in south-eastern Ontario (names have been changed or removed for anonymity).

What service providers and administrators told us

Service providers and administrators provide the unique perspective of professionals who work directly with children and families and those who plan and manage programs. They told us:

  1. The current set of programs and services is complex and difficult for parents – and service providers — to navigate.
    Professionals echoed the concerns raised by parents about the complexity of the current set of programs and services. Service providers sometimes have difficulty referring families to appropriate services because they aren't aware of what is available or they aren`t familiar with the correct process required to access these services.
  2. Services should be available to all families regardless of where they live, and must consider the needs of specific populations such as Aboriginal and Francophone communities.
    Service providers and administrators across the province expressed frustration at not being able to help families because a program or service wasn't available in their community, or because programs weren't appropriate for the language or cultural values of the family. They advocate for a child and family services system that provides the same quality and range of programs and services to all families in Ontario – no matter where they live. These services must also be universal and culturally appropriate.
  3. There are many programs and services that are working well, but could be strengthened, consolidated or re-engineered to move them to the next level.
    Professionals are passionate about the programs and services they deliver but recognize that there are opportunities to strengthen programs so they are more effective and provide a more streamlined service experience for families. Providers are not afraid of change, but do want to make sure we keep the things that are working well.
  4. Communities need common definitions of "integration" and "seamless service" and other core concepts so they know if they are on the right track.
    Many communities have been making progress toward integration. Community leaders are now looking for guidance and support from the ministry to help them better understand the concept of integration and other key terms so everyone can move together toward a shared vision.
  5. A "one-size-fits-all" solution won't work because communities across the province have widely varied strengths, needs and characteristics (for example, geographic or demographic differences).
    Service professionals are committed to building an integrated services system, but want to retain the flexibility to customize the system so that it can effectively respond to the needs of the community or local families.
  6. Providers are eager to finally get moving toward true integration, but want to make sure we take the time necessary to minimize service disruptions to families and stress on service workers, and make sure we get it right.
    Service professionals and administrators want to help build a more integrated system of services and are eager to realize the vision for Best Start Centres. They advocate for a purposeful approach that moves forward incrementally, taking a series of considered steps toward an integrated services system, and that allows providers the time to adapt to those changes and to be given the support and guidance required to do the systems change work that is necessary.

“All families, no matter what area they live in, deserve support. They need a safe place to take their children to learn social skills and how to play with other children. They need to have this support accessible in their own community. They need to be able to access the support when they need to and when they want to receive it.”

An Early Childhood Educator working in a rural community in South Eastern Ontario

“We have to come up with a way to make it more about the child and less about the organization. When planning, people are constantly thinking about how “they” can do it best and not how “best” it can be done for children and families. Because we have spent so many years working in silos, everyone thinks the service they provide is the most important service.”

A program administrator working in rural, urban, Aboriginal
and Francophone communities in south-eastern Ontario