North

N.W.T. gov't announces 3 early childhood development pilot projects

The Northwest Territories government is implementing pilot projects across the territory, aiming to help address gaps in early childhood development in small communities.

Children in small communities four times more likely to suffer from 'multiple challenges' than in Yellowknife

The N.W.T.’s health minister, Glen Abernethy, told a territorial standing committee last week that the department is rolling out pilot projects to help address gaps in early childhood development across the territory. (CBC)

The Northwest Territories government is implementing pilot projects across the territory, aiming to help address gaps in early childhood development in small communities.

In a standing committee hearing last week, Minister Glen Abernethy and representatives from the territory's department of health and social services addressed MLAs, explaining the significant difficulties that children in small communities face in being prepared to enter school.

By one metric — the Early Development Instrument, or EDI, which examines school readiness through factors such as physical and emotional health, language, general knowledge, and social competence — children in small communities were found to be nearly four times as likely as those from Yellowknife to be suffering from "multiple challenges."

To help bridge this gap, the department of health and social services is implementing three pilot projects across the territory. 

A speech pathologist is being hired for Tlicho communities to help address low language and cognitive development results in that region. In the Dehcho, a coordinator for already existing programs is being hired, and in the Inuvialuit regions, a position is being created to provide support for daycare workers and teachers.

The projects will run over the next three years, said Lisa Cardinal, the director of corporate planning, research and evaluation for the department.

"It is optimistic, I will say, to assume that we're going to have significant changes in EDI results based on two years of treatment," Cardinal told the standing committee. "But this is coming from the IRC [Inuvialuit Regional Corporation] and the Tlicho, who feel passionately that focusing on speech and cognitive development through intensive therapy or intervention will have significant results in their region."

At the moment, communities across the Northwest Territories have access to rehabilitation services, as well as some early childhood development-related programs, including prenatal programs, Aboriginal Head Start, and breastfeeding programs.

However, the territory acknowledged that there are gaps in the current system, including consistent and culturally relevant screening and support for parents and families between appointments.

The pilot projects will cost the territorial government about $730,000 per year. If they're successful, Cardinal said similar projects could be coming to other regions.

"As we're learning things, as we're finding successes or maybe improvements to service delivery, we want to immediately share those learnings across all the authority," she said, "so that everyone can start to benefit right away."

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