A child reads at the opening event of United Way Avenues of Change in Richmond.
The next “wave” of data that tracks B.C. children’s school readiness has been published by UBC’s Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP)
. The data tracks 245,000 kindergarten children gathered through questionnaires each February. The Early-Years Development Instrument (EDI) B.C. 2016 provincial report
measures and compare students’ vulnerability on five scales over time, including physical health and well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive development and communication skills and general knowledge. As reported in an article published in The Vancouver Sun and Province
, the data collected from 2013 to 2016 shows that 32.2. per cent of B.C. kindergarten students are considered vulnerable on one or more of these scales, up from 29.9 per cent in 2004 to 2007. Dr. Kimberly Schonert-Reichl, director of HELP, said few places in the world collect such detailed information. The data is used by organizations such as school districts, libraries and government to guide policy and program decisions and is also a vital tool for United Way of the Lower Mainland. Jeff Calbick, Vice-President of Community Impact and Investment for the United Way of the Lower Mainland, said “It informs both where we make our community investments — so right down to some neighbourhood examples — and the kind of services and support that we want to get behind.” An example of how the neighbourhood-level data is used to guide investment decisions is the early childhood initiative United Way Avenues of Change.
There are four neighbourhoods in the Lower Mainland where United Way is focussing investments over time to change EDI results: Coquitlam River in the Tri-Cities; Guildford West in Surrey; Richmond City Centre in Richmond; and Strathcona in Vancouver. In 2015, United Way invested $4.9 million programs and services across the Lower Mainland to help give young kids a healthy start so that they are ready to succeed by the time they enter school. UWLM invested another $5.1 million into programs and services to help school-age children succeed, grow their confidence, and reach their full potential. Find your neighbourhood here in this interactive map.
At a high level, these results show that language and cognitive development improved over time — 9.4 per cent of students are considered vulnerable, down from 11.3 per cent in 2004 to 2007. Communication has held steady at 14.2 per cent. But vulnerability increased on the three other measures over the same time period, most noticeably emotional maturity, which affects the highest number of children at 16.1 per cent, up from 11.9 in 2004 to 2007. Emotionally-vulnerable children have problems regulating their emotions and may struggle to manage aggressive behaviour and be disobedient, inattentive and impulsive. In the Vancouver Sun and Province’s story, Schonert-Reichl said it’s not easy to “tease apart” casual relationships, but questioned whether societal changes in B.C. might be impacting such trends, such as a lack of supports for parents as they struggle with B.C.’s high costs of housing and living. “Are parents coming home more stressed and therefore the kids are picking up the stress more?” she said. She also speculated that an increased reliance on technology and societal pressure that forces parents to spend more time on their smartphones might be having an impact. Jeff Calbick pointed to the cost of living in B.C. as an ongoing concern for United Way and as a contributing factor to the EDI results. “Families are feeling stressed. There’s an increased level of anxiety, worry, and I think that’s showing up in our children,” he said. “Now more than ever, we need to figure out not only service solutions but we have to engage parents in a different way. We also have to look at some different policy and systems-level change in order to make things better for kids,” said Calbick.