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CUExpo 2008 Paper, What Makes It Ours:
Lessons Learned from the Our Place- Learning in Motion Initiative
Mary Ann Jenkins, M.A., M.S.W., Mohamoud Hagi-Aden, M.B.A.
South-East Ottawa Centre for a Healthy Community

Abstract: The Our Place- Learning in Motion research initiative used a participatory research approach to explore the barriers to participation and the strategies that promote social inclusion of children and families in the Better Beginnings Better Futures community of South-East Ottawa.

Introduction
Better Beginnings Better Futures is a program of the South-East Ottawa Centre for a Healthy Community (SEOCHC), one of 14 community health and resource centres in Ottawa. BBBF is a community-based program that provides supports and services for parents and caregivers with children 0 to 6 years of age and pregnant women living in the Heatherington/ Albion/ Ledbury/ Fairlea neighbourhoods of South-East Ottawa. BBBF places an emphasis on community development, parent and service provider collaboration, and inter-agency integration and coordination.  The Our Place- Learning in Motion research initiative is funded by the Government of Canada’s Social Development Partnerships Program. The qualitative participatory study looked at how Better Beginnings Better Futures, a primary prevention program has contributed to social inclusion in a socially disadvantaged community. Using a participatory action research approach, the Project Coordinator/Researcher and Community Liaison Worker worked closely with the Better Beginnings Better Futures Steering Committee to determine the research questions, develop the methods of data collection, analyze the data, and recommend ways and means to implement strategies to remove barriers to inclusion. This paper will describe the barriers to inclusion that were identified and how this information was used to refine and change existing processes, structures and models of service delivery. Parents, staff and service providers all contributed their own knowledge of their experiences and furthered our understanding of what makes an inclusive community. We will share with you what we have learned about community involvement, access, ownership and strength during the research process.

Literature Review
Extensive research in Europe and in North America has produced a multitude of definitions of social exclusion and social inclusion. To understand one you must understand the other. According to John Pierson, the five components of social exclusion are: 1.Poverty and low income; 2. Lack of access to the job market; 3.Thin or non-existent social supports and networks; 4.The effect of the local area or neighbourhood; and 5.Exclusion from services.  When these five components come together and reinforce one another they serve to exclude people from the norms and standards of wellbeing that the majority of people enjoy (Pierson, 2002). Social inclusion has been seen as a response or solution to social exclusion. Research on social inclusion shows that what characterizes inclusive communities is the participation of disadvantaged families in social and health programs and community life (Friendly & Lero, 2002; Social Planning Council, 2007; Watson, et al., 2005).Introduction
Better Beginnings Better Futures is a program of the South-East Ottawa Centre for a Healthy Community (SEOCHC), one of 14 community health and resource centres in Ottawa. BBBF is a community-based program that provides supports and services for parents and caregivers with children 0 to 6 years of age and pregnant women living in the Heatherington/ Albion/ Ledbury/ Fairlea neighbourhoods of South-East Ottawa. BBBF places an emphasis on community development, parent and service provider collaboration, and inter-agency integration and coordination.  The Our Place- Learning in Motion research initiative is funded by the Government of Canada’s Social Development Partnerships Program. The qualitative participatory study looked at how Better Beginnings Better Futures, a primary prevention program has contributed to social inclusion in a socially disadvantaged community. Using a participatory action research approach, the Project Coordinator/Researcher and Community Liaison Worker worked closely with the Better Beginnings Better Futures Steering Committee to determine the research questions, develop the methods of data collection, analyze the data, and recommend ways and means to implement strategies to remove barriers to inclusion. This paper will describe the barriers to inclusion that were identified and how this information was used to refine and change existing processes, structures and models of service delivery. Parents, staff and service providers all contributed their own knowledge of their experiences and furthered our understanding of what makes an inclusive community. We will share with you what we have learned about community involvement, access, ownership and strength during the research process.

Literature Review
Extensive research in Europe and in North America has produced a multitude of definitions of social exclusion and social inclusion. To understand one you must understand the other. According to John Pierson, the five components of social exclusion are: 1.Poverty and low income; 2. Lack of access to the job market; 3.Thin or non-existent social supports and networks; 4.The effect of the local area or neighbourhood; and 5.Exclusion from services.  When these five components come together and reinforce one another they serve to exclude people from the norms and standards of wellbeing that the majority of people enjoy (Pierson, 2002). Social inclusion has been seen as a response or solution to social exclusion. Research on social inclusion shows that what characterizes inclusive communities is the participation of disadvantaged families in social and health programs and community life (Friendly & Lero,

After a careful review of the literature, the Better Beginnings Better Futures Steering Committee adopted the following definition of social inclusion. For families with young children living in the Better Beginnings Better Futures community, social inclusion includes having access to child development and parental assistance programs. Social inclusion provides the opportunity to lead productive, secure lives while developing the skills and knowledge necessary to participate fully in the community (Villeneuve, 2006, p. 2).

Methods of Data Collection
As the title suggests we are learning in motion. The project used a Participatory Action Research Approach. PAR is defined as doing research with and for people, rather than doing research on them. The focus is on working with people to identify problems, implement solutions, monitor the changes, and assess the outcomes. Participatory methods, equality between researchers and participants, and reflection and action all contribute to both the process and the outcomes (Meyer, 2000). The first task of the Steering Committee and the Project Coordinator was to determine what approach would help us get the answers needed to encourage inclusion, identify the barriers and create strategies to eliminate those barriers that were within the BBBF mandate. The project used a multi-method research strategy. The methodology was made up of five parts: 1) individual interviews 2) focus groups 3) observations 4) archival research and 5) the collection of photographs. Early in the research process the decision was made that the South-East Ottawa Centre for a Healthy Community would establish its own Research Ethics Board (REB). With the assistance of the Research Ethics Coordinator at Carleton University an REB was created and was comprising of staff, volunteers, community members and local social service agency representatives.

The first round of interviews with the community members was completed by other community members. Interviewers who spoke multiple languages were recruited and trained. All other interviews were conducted by the Researcher. Focus groups were held with staff, volunteers and community members to disseminate information and to ask more specific questions. The results of the focus groups and interviews were compiled in a report entitled Our Place (Jenkins, 2008).The report summarizes identified barriers to participation in BBBF programs and services, the strategies implemented to reduce exclusion and suggested further strategies to increase the inclusion and participation of families and children in community life. A small working group composed of staff, participants and a social agency representative worked with the Researcher to analyze the data and present the results.

Participants
The participants in the study were drawn from the Better Beginnings Better Futures community. They included: Past and present participants of the BBBF programs; Staff of the BBBF programs; Members of the BBBF Steering Committee; and Volunteers. Both past and present participants of BBBF programs tended to be women with young children (0-6) who lived in families with a number of risk factors associated with child development (families living on low income or social assistance; new Canadians; and lone parent families). They had all lived or continue to live in the South-East Ottawa neighbourhoods of Heatherington, Albion, Ledbury and Fairlea. The staff of BBBF included the Family Visitors, Playgroup Staff, Program Managers, and Community House Staff. The BBBF Steering Committee is made up of BBBF staff members, volunteers, community members, SEOCHC committee members and local service providers. The volunteers consisted of present or former community members and program participants. Of the approximately 900 households that make up the BBBF community, we tried to draw on participants from all areas within our geographic boundaries and from a variety of language and cultural groups. In total, 83 individuals were interviewed and fifty-six individuals participated in the focus groups, with some participants participating on more than one occasion. Observations were conducted on over forty separate occasions in the community, at Playgroup and at the Community House.

Results: Barriers and Strategies
A barrier can be anything that prevents an individual or family from accessing programs or services at BBBF. Barriers can be attitudinal, administrative, architectural or programmatic. In this section we have included five major areas of concern and possible strategies to address the concerns.

Access to Information
Many participants cited a lack of access to information about services as a major barrier to participation. This was particularly true of individuals who could not speak English or French. A number of people commented on the lack of available staff or volunteers in the Community House who speak different languages, especially at the reception area. Participants often relied on friends to provide information and this information was not always complete or accurate. Newcomers to the community often did not know where to access reliable information. Participants expressed a need for more information on what services BBBF provides, who is eligible for services, that services are offered free of charge, and hours of operation. The suggested strategies to increase the flow of information included establishing welcoming committees for new residents and new immigrants, having more advertisements and flyers in different languages and having a web-site with program information available in different languages.

Confidentiality
During the initial interviews in the fall 2006, several participants expressed a concern that there was a lack of confidentiality at BBBF and that their personal information was being discussed with other people. The neighbourhoods within the BBBF community are made up of high density housing and living so closely together makes it difficult for residents to maintain privacy. The Community House is often crowded and staff must share work spaces. Finding a place to meet privately with other staff or participants can be challenging. Concerns centered on small groups of staff and residents discussing people and events in the kitchen area of the Community House. To protect their own privacy, some people are reluctant to participate in BBBF programs and services.

In response to these concerns, multilingual focus groups were held in the spring of 2007. The Researcher provided a brief review of the training that all staff and volunteers go through when beginning work at BBBF and SEOCHC.  Participants were asked to share the information with their family and friends. While participants could not pinpoint specific times or situations when confidentiality was breached it was also suggested that BBBF should have information sheets available on the privacy policy and that the information should be available in various languages and easily accessible. It was recommended that all staff discuss the confidentiality policy with new clients and that the community should be reminded to be cautious about discussing personal information in public.

Cultural Competency
Initial research indicated that some participants perceived a lack of true understanding of cultural norms and practices on the part of staff and volunteers. It was noted that Ottawa receives the highest percentage of refugees and family-related immigration of any major Canadian centre and the number and variety of cultural communities in Ottawa is multiplying at a significant rate (City of Ottawa, 2004).Concerns were raised about what different cultural groups need or expect from an organization and that there are cultural barriers to accepting help. As SEOCHC and BBBF are committed to providing on-going cultural sensitivity and knowledge training for all staff, a half-day workshop which included discussions on values, attributes and benefits of an inclusive organization was held during a staff retreat in May 2007. Another suggestion to deal with barriers included developing a volunteer recruitment strategy so that participants could receive culturally sensitive assistance in a variety of languages.

Programmatic Barriers (Types of programs, delivery of programs)
In 2006, the lack of activities for men and their children was identified as a gap in service at BBBF. There was no programming at BBBF especially designed to meet the needs of men and their children and some fathers feel uncomfortable attending female dominated playgroups. In May 2007, after investigating other programs, Dads & Tots was launched. The drop-in program is designed for men and their children between the ages of 18 months and 5 years. The “men” can be fathers, uncles, grandfathers or any other male who plays a significant role in a child’s life. The planned activities encourage young children to learn through play, with a focus on gross motor and physical activity.

Several people stated that the staff/volunteers of the Extras Neighbourhood Food Cupboard did not treat them in a respectful manner by using either a harsh tone of voice or negative body language. Some people felt that when they refused food for cultural or religious beliefs they were made to feel like they were doing something wrong. Other concerns were raised over the process of choosing who gets served first at Food Cupboard. The lack of formal procedures led to a perception of preferential treatment. In response, a token system where individuals randomly select a number was implemented in October 2007. If people arrive at the Community House after the numbers have been handed out they are served on a first come first serve basis. In an attempt to further reduce the tension in the house a training session on How to Deal with Difficult Situations was offered to all staff and regular volunteers.

Welcoming Practices
The physical layout of the Community House poses some challenges in terms of welcoming people to our program. The Community House does not have a reception area in the traditional sense. The "office" is located in the kitchen, a traditionally private space in most homes and offices. To reach the office, visitors first must walk down a long hallway, past a lounge area. In an attempt to create a homelike environment staff and volunteers do not wear name tags and therefore are not readily identifiable. In some cases visitors were left wondering to whom they should address their inquiries. Some participants also stated that they felt they were treated differently because they came from a different culture or because they spoke a different language. Similar concerns were raised about Playgroup. It is often difficult for one of the two regular staff members to get to the front door and welcome everyone as they enter.

In response, welcoming practices were introduced. In the spring of 2007, the office staff and volunteers received information on welcoming behaviour. When someone enters the Community House a staff member or volunteer is to greet the person and inquire as to whether or not they need any assistance. The Community House has posted multilingual signs on both the front and back doors encouraging visitors to come in. At Playgroup the two regular staff members have tried to divide up the task of welcoming and saying goodbye to people.

Discussion: Lessons Learned
When this project began, there was a great deal of discussion and confusion about the concept of “social inclusion”.  However when people started talking about their own definition of inclusion, almost all of the definitions spoke to some aspect of BBBF’s management approach and value system. Better Beginnings Better Futures operates from a “management from beside” approach which places an emphasis on the relationships between managers, staff, volunteers and community members. The characteristics of this management style include process orientation, people centeredness, hiring from within, democratic leadership, boundary diffusion and modelling. The BBBF program is also guided by a set of values and tenets. Individual and environmental enhancement, accessibility, non-stigmatizing, holistic, involvement of the family and the community and integration with current service agencies are some of the values that guide the day to day work at BBBF. In this final section, we will share with you what we have learned about community involvement, access, ownership and strength during the research process.  

Inclusion involves making choices. What creates inclusion for some means exclusion for others. With the goal of creating a warm, home-like environment, there is limited use of signage at the Community House. “My friends describe the Community House as the ‘family home’ where there is love, family support, socialization and family feeling.” For others, the lack of a traditional office setting creates barriers. “I don’t know when it is a good time to come to the house. I am unsure of the hours and when different services are offered. If I am not greeted, I sometimes feel that I came at the wrong time or an inconvenient time.” (Translation from Arabic)

Inclusion requires both time and effort. BBBF strives to maintain a people-centered approach to their model of service delivery. Relationship building is central to all activities at BBBF. A number of the staff stated that finding a connection with the people they work with is essential to their being able to do their job effectively. “When I go to a home I see the client as an equal it's not a question of me being the professional and the client has to just listen to what I suggest. My goal is to establish a relationship. It has its setbacks. It takes more time but in the long run it is worth it. I may not be as efficient but I may be more successful.”

Inclusion means taking the needs of all people into consideration. Nearly, everyone talked about the word “family” when referring to BBBF and inclusion. “(Family Visitor) was like a grandmother to us.” Obviously, the word “family” can have several different definitions, but what came out of the research was that inclusion, at least by BBBF, provides the same level, or depth, of comfort that a family does. The feeling that BBBF is like family refers to the idea that you can simply walk in the door, you need no introduction, and you are accepted and known (Villeneuve, 2006). While both staff and community have benefited from this closeness, the reality of caring for such a large “family” comes with a downside. “The impact of caring for others is that it burns us all and we forget to care for ourselves.”

Inclusion is about reciprocity. It involves BBBF creating opportunities for people to participate in decisions and processes that affect their lives. It also means waiting for people to let you in to their lives. Many staff, volunteers and community members expressed that together they felt they had created something special at BBBF. These final words, as expressed by a staff member, speak to the opportunity, time, trust and reciprocity needed to achieve true inclusion.  “People are volunteering to be part of us (BBBF). They know they can come back at any time. There is a high comfort level. We have been with them through good and bad. We have learned from them. We became included in their lives. People allowed us in.”

Conclusion
Our Place- Learning in Motionis a snapshot of our community’s experiences. It provides an example of how BBBF has tried to involve community members and service providers in a holistic approach that supports families and children from the prenatal through the preschool years. We hope that other groups will be able to take ideas from our experiences and use them to support inclusion in their communities.
References
City of Ottawa. (2004). Ottawa counts: Immigration to Ottawa (Vol.3). Retrieved March 14, 2008 fromhttp://www.ottawa.ca/city_services/statistics/counts/counts_jul_04/index_en.shtml

Friendly, M. & Lero, D. (2002). Social inclusion through early childhood education and care. Toronto: Laidlaw Foundation.

Jenkins, M. (2008). Our Place. Ottawa: South-East Ottawa Centre for a Healthy Community.

Meyer, J. ( 2000). Using qualitative methods in health-related action research. In C. Pope and N. Mays (Eds.), Qualitative research in health care (2nd ed.) (pp. 59-74). London: BMJ Books.

Pierson, J. (2002). Tackling social exclusion. London: Routledge.

Social Planning Council of Ottawa. (2007). Is everybody here? Ottawa, March.

Villeneuve, S. (2006). We all drink the same coffee. Ottawa: South-East Ottawa Centre for a Healthy Community.

Watson, J., White, A., Taplin, S., & Huntsman, L. (2005). Prevention and early intervention   literature review. Ashfield, New South Wales: NSW Centre for Parenting & Research.