The Region of Peel invited front-line staff working in family support programs in Peel to attend face-to-face consultation sessions in preparation for the consolidation of the current Child and Family Programs into the Ontario Early Years Child and Family Centres.
By: Chanel Tsang
In preparation for the consolidation of the current Child and Family Programs (8 OEYCs with over 40 locations, 11 PFLCs, 14 CFLCs, 2 CCRCs) into the Ontario Early Years Child and Family Centres (OEYCFC) beginning in 2018, the Region of Peel invited front-line staff working in family support programs in Peel to attend face-to-face consultation sessions. The sessions took place at the Burnhamthorpe Community Centre in Mississauga, two sessions on Monday, June 14th and one evening session on Friday, June 16th, 2017.
Two facilitators from DPRA, an independent consulting company, ran the two-hour sessions. I attended the June 14th afternoon session with 16 other participants, the majority being OEYC staff along with a few PFLC staff. Those who were not able to attend these sessions were later invited to participate in an online survey, and staff who did attend were able to provide further feedback on this survey as well.
In November 2016, the Region conducted local needs assessments, sending a Family Support Program Survey and Family Support Programs and Services Inventory to each program in Peel. In June 2017, representatives from the Strategic Planning, Management and Evaluation department visited a selection of program sites. Based on the responses, facilitators highlighted current programs’ strengths and challenges to generate discussion.
The sessions were also an opportunity for staff to voice their concerns about the transition, which, in the session I attended, included the following:
Job security. Will there be centres in certain areas that will merge into one OEYCFC? Will some centres close completely? Will current staff retain their positions? Some session participants were concerned about the creation of “super centres” and the potential for losing the smaller, more intimate spaces that can be more conducive to relationship-building amongst community members and offer a quieter space for children and adults for whom this is preferred or needed.
Schools-first approach. What does this mean for programs currently operating in different buildings? Does the schools-first approach indicate a higher likelihood of closures or moves for programs not based in schools? What sort of support will the Region provide in facilitating strong working relationships between programs and the participating schools and school boards?
Equal or fair funding for all programs. How will the OEYCFC funding be divided amongst programs? Will programs with higher attendance numbers automatically receive more funding or will there be further assessment performed to determine current and future needs? How will current staff pay scales be affected? Currently PFLCs employ one staff member per program—will these centres move towards a two-staff model, something for which many at the session advocated?
Program evaluation and assessment. How will programs be evaluated for viability and quality of service, both in preparation for the transition and in the future? The site visits in June may have provided a quick snapshot of what family supports programs offer, but longer visits would allow Region representatives to truly experience life in a family supports program, spend time speaking with families about their experiences in program, etc. There was a consensus at our session that we need to recognize that program success is not solely based on attendance numbers, and that the stories of families’ experiences and development must be included in evaluation processes.
Individual program autonomy. Will the new OEYCFCs allow for centres to continue to tailor their programs to their own community’s needs and interests? Will each program still be able to maintain its distinct spirit and character under new OEYCFC-wide policies?
Staff training requirements and professional development. Will there be funding to provide ongoing professional development for staff to remain up-to-date with best practices and current issues being faced by Ontario families? Will the Municipal Service Managers prioritize and recognize the value of promoting and hiring a healthy blend of staff proficiencies in each program? Early childhood education training is vital to provide high quality learning experiences, but knowledge and training in family supports must also be acknowledged as necessary in order to provide comprehensive support for the whole family.
Community partnerships. What type of support can we expect to maintain and build on our connections to various community organizations and partners? How will the time devoted to outreach, program planning, community partnership building, etc. be recognized in terms of compensation? Many participants emphasized the importance of these connections and the amount of time and effort required to build and maintain these relationships that usually happens outside of paid working hours. One suggestion was having a central outreach coordinator dedicated to each area to manage and support each program.
Mid-way through my session, one astute participant brought up a valid point after a long discussion of our concerns—that the Region is likely familiar with many of our concerns through the previous surveys and program visits and what we need to begin doing is provide our ideas for solutions. I felt that this observation served as a turning point in our discussion, motivating us to brainstorm solutions to our perceived challenges. It was encouraging to see the camaraderie and support amongst participants during our productive discussion.
While the facilitators from DPRA were forthright and responsive, we may not receive answers to many of our questions until planning is finalized. Since the Ministry of Education announcement about the OEYCFC service integration on February 27, 2016, this uncertainty is something that has been a cause for concern for many staff who have the welfare of their program and families in mind as well as the practical impact on their jobs. With the local needs assessments, the consultation sessions and online survey, online parent survey, and site visits, the Region of Peel has been making a good effort in terms of community engagement with front line staff and families. As the 2018 transition date looms closer, my hope is that the decision makers truly take our suggestions and feedback into consideration as well as keep us, front line staff and family program participants, in the loop with regular communication and opportunities to engage in the planning progress.
I came away from the consultation with a sense of cautious optimism moving forward. One other positive takeaway I had from the experience was meeting others in the field to discuss issues that affect us and share ideas and stories. It also made me glad to be part of FSIO, which strives to unite everyone in family supports, inform its members to the latest updates, and advocate for our work. This is especially important during this time of change. It’s an exciting time in the field of family supports in Ontario right now, and I’m sure I’m not alone in eagerly looking forward to see how the OEYCFC initiative unfolds.
How has your city been engaging front line staff in the transition planning? What are your impressions? We’d love to hear what you think!
Chanel Tsang is the Parent Worker at the Parenting and Family Literacy Centre at Christ the King Catholic Elementary School (Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board) in Mississauga, Ontario.