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Integrated Living Vice President Research and International, Office of the 2009-11-30

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Diversity in the Community  Integrated Living The question of where to raise a family is top of mind for many B.C. parents. New research shows that children thrive in communities which embrace people from all walks of life.  It may take a village to raise a child, according to proverb, but the question of exactly which “village” to choose is a major life decision for many modern parents. Does raising one’s children in a more affluent community offer a better developmental environment than a disadvantaged area, as conventional wisdom suggests? Not according to a recent study at the UBCbased Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP), which found that economically diverse neighbourhoods can make a key contribution to early child development. Based on data from 37,798 children in 433 neighbourhoods around British Columbia, the study revealed that, on average, young children are better prepared for school when they reside in neighbourhoods with relatively equal proportions of affluent and lower-income families. “The findings in this study are truly novel, as the predominant school of thought is the more wealth in an area, the greater the  19  benefits are to the children in that location,” says Jennifer Lloyd, a co-investigator in the study and Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Post-Doctoral Fellow. “Our results reveal something very different. The Early Development Instrument (EDI) score (see sidebar on page 21) begins to drop as the concentration of affluence surpasses the concentration of low-income families.” Lloyd believes the success of mixedincome neighbourhoods may be due to the availability of more services and programs, which benefit both lower-income and affluent children. For example, early literacy programs may be available in mixed-income areas that are simply not found in more affluent areas. And while affluent families may benefit from services available in mixed-income neighbourhoods, evidence suggests that disadvantaged children may also benefit from living in these locations, which are more resource-rich than lowerincome neighbourhoods.  Assessing Developmental Readiness  The complex data supporting the study’s surprise findings were collected using the Early Development Instrument (EDI), an index developed by researchers to measure a child’s developmental readiness at kindergarten. The EDI takes into account the child’s physical health and well-being, social knowledge and competence, emotional health and maturity, language and cognitive development, and communication skills and general knowledge. “A child’s development in the early years is incredibly important – a predictor not only of success in school but also health and well-being throughout the life-span,” says Richard Carpiano, an Assistant Professor of Sociology and lead investigator in the study. Carpiano believes it is important to think of a child’s development from a longitudinal perspective: given that early child development is an indicator of long-term health and wellness, the more that can be known  Fall/Winter 2009  Diversity in the Community  The Human Early Learning Partnership (help) is a unique research institute housed at UBC that focuses on early childhood development. help applies a “cell-to-society” approach to understanding early child development. help’s research program considers children’s biological factors and factors related to families, schools, and communities, and provincial and federal governance. help is made up of an interdisciplinary group of researchers from the six major universities in British Columbia who come from a variety of disciplines including early childhood education, nursing, medicine, pediatrics, sociology, psychology, and psychometrics. help oversees the collection of Early Development Instrument (EDI) data across the entire province on an annual basis, allowing for the monitoring of early child development so as to inform local and provincial policy-makers, practitioners, and other stakeholders.  about young children’s lives earlier, the better supported they can be. Lloyd agrees: “People have traditionally tended to think about early child development predominantly in terms of children’s individual traits and characteristics,” she says. “We’re showing that there is also something inherently important about considering the environments in which children are reared.” Of particular concern to the researchers is the number of children who aren’t ready for school by age five. “There is a very large proportion of kids who are starting kindergarten vulnerable in terms of their physical, social-emotional, and language-communications development,” Lloyd notes. To address the lack of children’s developmental readiness, Carpiano believes communities need to look at the distribution of programs and services in their local area. This should take into account childcare, parks, recreation centres, and kid- and  family-friendly locations that have the ability to improve the quality of life for children and their families. Beyond individual factors of influence, Lloyd stresses that “early child development is not simply an issue of private concern for parents, and it’s not simply an issue of institutional concern for schools. It’s also an issue of province-wide concern for policymakers.” The next step for the researchers is to convince policy-makers and government to use the results of their study when considering where to provide services within city planning schemes. To this end, HELP researchers participate in public conferences every year on the state of early child development, alongside health practitioners, policy-makers and other stakeholders. Dr. Clyde Hertzman, Director of HELP and co-investigator in the current study, also hosts an annual event to discuss current and future trends of early child development research.  “It’s important to ask how neighbourhoods matter for raising children,” says Carpiano. “We need to consider how neighbourhoods contribute to the quality of life for a child’s family.” This study was funded by Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR). HELP (www. earlylearning.ubc.ca) receives core funding from the BC Ministries of Children and Family Development, of Education, and of Healthy Living and Sport. Specific projects are supported by Population Data BC which is funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, MSFHR, and the BC Ministry of Advanced Education and Labour Market Development.  THE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIA • OFFICE OF THE VICE PRESIDENT RESEARCH & INTERNATIONAL  20  


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