Best Start is Ontario’s plan to enhance early learning, child care and the healthy development of children so they are ready to achieve success in school by the time they start Grade 1. The goal of Best Start is to help children develop the skills to succeed in school and beyond. The government introduced the Best Start initiative in 2005 as an important first step toward creating a more integrated system of support and services for families with young children. Notably, Best Start was implemented at an accelerated pace over a five year period in the following three communities:
· rural Chatham-Kent & Lambton,
· the District of Timiskaming, and
· the east end of Hamilton
In the first five years of Best Start, Chatham-Kent built a strong network of service providers to jointly plan and deliver early learning programs and services in a more coordinated fashion. Beginning with the development of a comprehensive community plan to guide how best to strengthen the local early learning system, network partners built 11 Best Start Hubs – easily accessed locations, primarily in elementary schools, where families with young children could access a range of early learning programs and services.
Importantly, the province recognized that the progress achieved by demonstration communities has been largely due to strong local leadership and trusting and respectful relationships among service providers.
The provincial government’s document entitled With Our Best Future in Mind: Implementing Early Learning in Ontario included many recommendations designed to move Ontario towards a seamless, integrated service system for children and families through the introduction of Best Start Child and Family Centres. The phasing in of universal, full day kindergarten represents another significant step by the provincial government towards strengthening the current system by expanding the roles of the Ministry of Education and Boards of Education in delivering early learning and care services.
Locally, the Best Start Committee has spent considerable time developing a common understanding of integration concepts and fostering a community wide commitment to building a more navigable system of supports. A system where every door is the right door; where a family enters one program, and if needed, can be easily connected with other programs or services. A system where families only have to tell their story once; and where the staff person that hears that story, can both identify and connect them to other potentially helpful services. A system that is family and user-friendly; a system where no child or family is left behind.
Having established itself as a driving force toward positive change in our local early learning and care system, the Chatham-Kent Best Start Network continues to thrive. Applying lessons learned with innovation, Best Start is demonstrating how strengthening awareness, coordination and collaboration among organizations serving families with young children pays big dividends. Every day, new connections are being developed among service providers, making it easier for parents to find and access the services they need. In turn, this increases the likelihood that our children participate in the programs and receive the services they require to be ready to learn when they enter school and become healthy, productive citizens later in life.
The local Best Start Network’s 2011-2015 Strategic Plan is the communities’ guidepost to further strengthening our early learning and child development system. The community will continue to build upon the foundation of its current network of Best Start Hubs and partnerships to more fully implement the provinces vision of Best Start Child and Family Centres. Stay tuned.