Mr. Speaker, supporting quality early childhood development in collaboration with other organizations is a priority for the 18th Legislative Assembly. We all want the children of the NWT to have the best possible start in life so that they can reach their full potential. To realize this goal, the Early Childhood Development Action Plan was developed to address gaps in services delivered to children aged zero to five, by creating new programs and improving existing ones.
Today, I would like to update you on an exciting new approach to improve early childhood development through enhanced early intervention services, taking advantage of partnerships with regional organizations that are bringing local know-how and expertise to the table.
A major challenge that we face in the NWT is providing consistent and equitable access to government services due to the remoteness of small communities. This is why it is important that we develop a sustainable community-based model for early childhood screening, identification of developmental delays, and intervention. We must be able to provide consistent follow-up on recommendations and treatment plans between appointments for children who have an identified developmental delay.
To address this challenge, the Department of Health and Social Services is working with regional Health and Social Services Authorities, the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, and the Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency to pilot three early childhood intervention projects. These three-year long pilot projects began last spring and are being conducted in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, the Tłı̨chǫ Region, and the Dehcho Region.
Each pilot project will respond to the unique needs of children in their region, based on the results of the Early Development Instrument and a one-time baseline assessment conducted in 2014. Resources will be targeted to children and families in small communities to support children’s needs, build on existing community-based resources, and build capacity in the communities.
The pilot project in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region is being led by the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation in partnership with the Beaufort Delta Health and Social Services Authority and will improve access to rehabilitation specialists in remote communities. In its first year the project has increased the number and length of speech language pathologist visits to Aklavik, Tuktoyaktuk and Ulukhaktok. The project has also provided language development training to day-care workers in those communities, and in Inuvik, so that they can provide preventative and educational support to family members and caregivers of the child.
The pilot project in the Tłı̨chǫ Region is being led by the Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency. This pilot project is designed to improve regional access to speech and language support, and cultural relevancy of speech and language activities. The Tłı̨chǫ Community Services Agency has hired a regionally-based Speech and Language Pathologist who is providing services, skill building and group play activities at the daycare and pre-school, and also training daycare and pre-school operators so they are able to provide ongoing speech and language activities.
Lastly, the pilot project in the Dehcho Region is being led by the Dehcho Health and Social Services Authority, and will offer coordination and case management to increase participation in programs and services. The Dehcho Health and Social Services Authority has hired an Early Childhood Intervention Coordinator to support intake, referral, and assessment, and to provide preventative and educational support for family members and caregivers of the child.
Mr. Speaker, these three pilot projects were regionally designed by the partners to meet the needs of their communities and support our priorities of fostering healthy families and improving how we do business as a government. The Department is providing support and continuous improvement monitoring based on staff and client feedback. Early lessons from the pilot projects will be shared with all regional staff involved in early childhood development programming. An evaluation of all three projects will help us to identify the most effective best practices, and ensure that these approaches continue to improve early child well-being in the future.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.