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WHAT MAKES IT OURS

Lessons Learned from the
Our Place- Learning in Motion Initiative

A Report on Social Inclusion for Families and Children
by South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre

JULY 2008
Funded by Social Development Canada
 (Social Development Partnerships Program)

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

In 2005, Better Beginnings Better Futures (BBBF) of Ottawa, a program of South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre, was awarded funding from the Social Development Partnership Program (Human Resources and Social Development Canada) for their project on social inclusion of children and families. The project was to explore models that promote place-based best practices and partnerships to help communities organize themselves to enhance the well-being of children under six and their families, especially those in disadvantaged circumstances.

 

Our Place Learning in Motion Project Team
Program Manager (BBBF)    - Leslie McDiarmid (1991- September 2007)
                                               - Kelli Tonner (September 2007- to present)
Project Coordinator/Researcher
-Susan Villeneuve (February 2006–March 2007)
                                                -Mary Ann Jenkins (April 2007 – July 2008)
Community Liaison Worker   - Mohamoud Hagi-Aden

Report prepared by: Mary Ann Jenkins, M.S.W.

The project team would like to thank the Better Beginnings Better Futures Steering Committee for their input, guidance, and collaboration on the successful implementation and completion of Our Place-Learning in Motion initiative.

 

A very special thank you is extended to Leslie McDiarmid for her on-going enthusiasm, guidance and support in this endeavor.

How to reach us:

Better Beginnings Better Futures
22-1485 Heatherington Road
Ottawa, ON, K1V 8Z4
Tel: 613-523-2223
Fax: 613-523-2360
Internet: www.betterbeginnings.ca

 

 

This report has been funded by the Government of Canada’s Social Development Partnerships Program.  The opinions and interpretations expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.

 


Executive Summary

The Our Place-Learning in Motion initiative was funded by the Government of Canada’s Social Development Partnerships Program. It explored the processes, structures, supports and value based practices that promote social inclusion of families in the Better Beginnings Better Futures (BBBF) community of South-East Ottawa. BBBF 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 5 years of age and pregnant women living in the Heatherington/ Albion/ Ledbury/ Fairlea neighbourhoods of South-East Ottawa. The program places an emphasis on community development, parent and service provider collaboration, and inter-agency integration and coordination.

The 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. Parents, staff and service providers all contributed their own knowledge of their experiences and furthered our understanding of what makes an inclusive community.

The four main themes that emerged from the research in terms of the lessons learned about social inclusion are; 1) that inclusion means making choices, 2) inclusion requires time and effort, 3) there must be a recognition of the needs of everyone, and 4) reciprocity. With respect to choices, it important to recognize that decisions will create inclusion for some and barriers for others. It is impossible to reach a consensus on every decision. Building and maintaining relationships is essential to achieving social inclusion. It is however very time consuming. The third theme stresses the importance of recognizing the needs of everyone, not just the children and the immediate family but staff and the larger community as well. Finally, in terms of reciprocity, community members learn from staff but staff also learn from community members.  There is a sharing of knowledge and power.

The research also revealed the elements that support social inclusion and barriers to inclusion. Those elements frequently mentioned by staff and residents include an openness to different cultures, flexibility in programming, non-judgemental staff, consistency in staff and services, and opportunities to participate. Social inclusion must be seen as a partnership between the community and the program. It means residents must not only feel part of the BBBF community but the larger society as well. Some of the barriers that were identified included; a lack of information about programs, concerns about privacy and confidentiality, stigma about receiving help, language barriers, the hours of operation and lack of space. Overall, the results proved to be an affirmation of the original goals of the BBBF program; to promote optimal social, emotional, behavioural and cognitive development; strengthen the ability of communities to respond to the needs of children and families; and reduce the incidence of serious long-term emotional and behavioural problems.

 

 

 

Introduction

Better Beginnings Better Futures is a program of the South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre (SEOCHC), one of 14 community health and resource centres in Ottawa. Better Beginnings Better Futures (BBBF) is a community-based program that provides supports and services for parents and caregivers with children 0 to 5 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. 

In December 2004, the South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre applied for funding from the Government of Canada’s Social Development Partnerships Program under the Social Inclusion of Children and Families priority.  Projects under this initiative were to explore models that promote place-based best practices and partnerships to help communities organize themselves to enhance the well-being of children under six and their families, especially those in disadvantaged circumstances. Projects were intended to be community driven and citizen-led and could include knowledge development, community action, mentoring strategies, models of engagement, and/or innovative approaches or tools. The initiative entitled Our Place –Learning in Motion began in January 2006 with the goal of producing new knowledge to assist the community of Better Beginnings Better Futures to increase access, inclusion and encourage the participation of parents and children in community life.

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.

This qualitative participatory study looked at how Better Beginnings Better Futures, a primary prevention program has contributed to social inclusion in their community. The goal of the Our Place–Learning in Motion initiative was to identify barriers to participation in Better Beginnings Better Futures (BBBF) programs and services and to find ways to increase the inclusion and participation of families in the Albion, Heatherington, Fairlea and Ledbury neighbourhoods.

The project had three distinct phases. The first phase of the project determined the extent of community involvement, the barriers to participation, and what encouraged participation.  This phase involved interviewing community members, staff, volunteers, and partner organizations about their experiences and perceptions. This information was used to refine and change existing processes, structures and models of service delivery to better connect and include young children and their families in community life.

The second phase of the project documented the process by which the community planned and implemented changes to the current programs and services. This phase involved organizing focus groups and individual interviews with community members, staff, volunteers, and partner organizations to obtain feedback on the changes and explore other areas where changes are needed.

In the third and final phase of the project, data collected over the previous two years was analysed and synthesized. This report provides a best practices blueprint in the development, implementation and evaluation of an engaging and inclusive community for families with young children. Starting with a statistical snap shot of the community the report goes on to discuss our seven research questions. The results of our research has been made available through numerous presentations at international, national, and regional conferences; a poster display; and a PowerPoint presentation available on our website
Methodology____________________________________

As the title suggests we are learning in motion. The project used a Participatory Action Research (PAR) 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).

Methods of Data Collection
The first task of the Steering Committee and the Researcher 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 multiple-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.

1) Individual Interviews
In the summer of 2006, the Community Liaison Worker spent considerable time finding suitable interviewers who would be able to interview participants in Arabic, English, French, Spanish and Somali. Each interviewer spoke English as well as his or her mother tongue. A training session provided the interviewers with background on the project, the focus of the questions, various interviewing skills (how to ask open-ended questions, develop probes to go below the surface), as well as learning the practical things, for example of how to work the tape recorder.  Discussions also addressed particular cultural requirements, confidentiality, the need for flexibility by the interviewers, as well as the need for the interviewers to find a comfortable setting for the interviews, work on listening skills and how to provide a sympathetic, responsive environment for the interview participants.

The Researcher was responsible for interviewing all staff, service providers, SEOCHC Board members and Steering Committee members as well as past participants of BBBF programs, people who declined BBBF programs and any participant that other interviews were unable to interview.

All participants were offered a choice as to where the interviews took place. The locales ranged from individual homes, workplaces, playgroup to local restaurants. Conducting the interviews where the participants preferred added to their feeling of security and sense of ownership. In the case of participants who had left the community, interviews were conducted by phone.  All interviews lasted between one and two hours depending on the participant and the information that they were able to provide. Interviews were conducted in five languages, Arabic, English, French, Somali and Spanish.

The interviews were tape recorded in the fall of 2006. This decision was made for a couple of reasons. Many of the interviewers had no previous experience in interviewing and this allowed them to replay the interviews many times aiding them in the transcription process. It also allowed for the Researcher to play the tapes in case of any concerns or questions.

In the second round of interviews, all interviews were conducted in English by the Researcher. The Researcher chose not to record the interviews. This allowed those being interviewed to tell the Researcher things “off the record” as many of them did. The decision not to tape record also has its downside, as the recorders often have their head down as they scribble away. There is the potential for information to be missed. It can also slow down the interview process.

2) Focus Groups
Focus groups are often used because it is believed that they offer advantages over one-on-one interviews. The decision to use this method of data gathering was based on a number of considerations. It allows for the gathering of a large amount of information in a relatively short period of time. It places participants on a more equal footing with the researcher. Members are more likely to be candid among others who have had similar experiences. The group also helps individual members to think about and respond to issues that they might not have otherwise remembered or thought important and the researcher can explore unanticipated topics as they arise in the course of the discussion (Berg, 2007; Yegidis & Weinbach, 2002).

The purpose of the community member/program participant focus groups was twofold: to educate and to disseminate information and to ask further, more specific questions. The focus groups were facilitated by the Researcher and the Community Liaison Worker. The Arabic, French and Somali focus groups had an interpreter drawn from within the BBBF community to facilitate the discussions. All focus groups took place at the Community House as it was a location known to the participants and provided ease of access. The second round of Arabic and Somali focus groups took place during the day so as not to interfere with Ramadan. The interpreters were compensated for their time based on an hourly rate. Focus groups lasted from 1-2 hours. The Researcher chose not to tape record the focus groups as a way to encourage participants to speak openly about the program and its impact on their lives. The responses of the participants were recorded directly onto the interview guide. For the second round of focus groups the Community Liaison Worker was present at all sessions and he reviewed the notes for accuracy. The staff focus groups were facilitated by the Researcher. The Community Liaison Worker was not present. The Program Managers had a group separate from the other staff.

Light refreshments were provided for afternoon focus groups and for those happening over the supper hour a full home-cooked meal was provided. As the second round of focus groups was held during Ramadan, food was not offered to the Arabic and Somali groups.

The running of the focus groups presented a number of challenges. Due to the voluntary nature of the groups the Researcher and Community Liaison Worker sometimes struggled to achieve a sufficient number for the planned sessions. As the Researcher did not speak Arabic or Somali she was reliant on the facilitator’s ability to motivate the participants and moderate the discussions. Group dynamics also made the running of focus groups somewhat challenging and the Researcher tried to ensure that all participants in the groups had an opportunity to voice their opinions.

3) Observations
Direct (Reactive) Observation
The study used the direct type of observation.  This means people know that they are being watched. The Researcher did not advertise that she was conducting observations but was forthcoming if approached. One problem with this form of observation is that those being watched are reacting to you. A long term observational study will often catch a glimpse of the natural behaviour. Other problems concern the generalizability of findings. The sample of individuals may not be representative of the population or the behaviours observed are not representative of the individual (you caught the person on a bad day). Again, long-term observational studies will often overcome the problem of external validity (Babbie, 2007). During the second round of observations, the Researcher became a participant-observer by being very involved in the community engaging in important group activities such as community celebrations, playgroup, parties etc. It was hoped that people would become accustomed to the Researcher being around and would be more apt to act naturally.

Observations were conducted in the community, at playgroup and at the community house. The Researcher spent time at the different locations during different times of the day and for different lengths of time.  This provided opportunities to see how the various programs worked, the flow of participants, and how staff and volunteers dealt with participants and issues that arose. The Researcher also attended community celebrations, parties and cultural events throughout a two year period.   Field notes were compiled after each observation session. The Researcher waited until leaving the setting to compile the notes. They included the date, time, and place of the observations, specific facts and details about what happened on site. Notes were also taken at formal meetings such as staff meetings, Steering Committee meetings, etc. Observations were conducted on more than 40 separate occasions between Summer 2006 and Spring 2008.
4) Archival Research
The archival data included the collection of census data, written reports and new material provided by the participants or third parties. This new material included newspaper articles, photographs, brochures, etc. Newspaper clippings which featured articles pertaining to the community were assembled into a binder and were available for viewing at each Steering Committee meeting.

5) Photographs
When used as illustrations, photographs can make information easier to understand and often can be used to more effectively communicate it to those without first hand knowledge of the situation. New photographs were assembled throughout the two years of the project. Members of the BBBF community identified which photographs they felt best reflected their community. The photographs were used in the production of reports, on the web site and in PowerPoint presentations (Donaldson, 2001).

Sample
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. The study 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 people participated in the focus groups, with some participants participating on more than occasion. Due to financial and logistical considerations, interviews were limited to five language groups, Arabic, English, French, Somali and Spanish. The focus groups to four were conducted in Arabic, English, French and Somali. The Researcher was unable to recruit sufficient Spanish speaking participants to warrant a separate Spanish language focus group. Spanish speaking participants opted to join the English focus groups.

Recruitment
Recruitment for the three stages of the project was achieved using two methods: purposive sampling and snowball sampling. In social science research, snowball sampling is a technique for developing a research sample where existing study subjects recruit future subjects from among their acquaintances (Berg, 2007). The sample group appears to grow like a rolling snowball. This sampling technique is often used in hidden populations which are difficult for researchers to access or when researching sensitive topics (Lee, 1993).  This method was used to recruit community members and program participants. The Community Liaison Worker was instrumental in this area. Through his connections in the community he was able to identify key people and through word of mouth they were able to recruit other participants. The Researcher also relied on information from Family Visitors, BBBF Steering Committee members, program managers and volunteers.

In purposive sampling, the researcher chooses the sample based on who they think would be appropriate for the study. This is used primarily when there is a limited number of people that have expertise in the area being researched as was the case with staff and service providers who held a unique perspective. A researcher may also use purposive sampling to select members of a difficult to reach population. Relying on the subjective information of the staff we were able to develop a list of participants for inclusion in the study (Neuman & Kreuger, 2003). The interviewers who conducted the individual interviews in the summer of 2006 were asked to identify people who would be willing to attend the focus groups. Efforts were made to have some people participate in more than one stage of the research so we could gauge whether the information was being relayed out into the community. For the final round of interviews and focus groups the Researcher again turned to the initial interview participants and also requested possible names from the Family Visitors and the Playgroup Coordinator. Again, in an attempt to further gauge the flow of information, some effort was made, with limited success, to recruit people who had been interviewed or participated in the focus groups in the past.

Description of Instrument
Stage 1: Interviews Fall 2006
The Researcher and the Community Liaison Worker held several test interviews with a staff member, a manager, a volunteer, a program participant and a service provider. As well, the two met with a focus group of staff members. The information and feedback was collected and presented to the Steering Committee. It was decided that an interview guide with open-ended questions seemed the most viable. The first round of interviews involved semi-structured interviews conducted with Better Beginnings Better Futures participants (both past and present), volunteers, BBBF staff, Steering Committee members and service providers. Separate interview guides were developed for each group and participant interview guides were translated from English into Arabic, French, Somali and Spanish.

Stage 2: Focus Groups Spring 2007
With input from the Better Beginnings Better Futures Steering Committee, the BBBF Program Manager, and the Project Coordinator and after a careful review of the research conducted in 2006, a guide was developed involving 21 possible questions. The guide had four sections: Scent Free Policy; Confidentiality; Cultural Sensitivity; and Hours of Operation. As part of the purpose of the focus groups was to provide information to the participants, two hand-outs were distributed (in the relevant language) to the participants; a summary of the interim report We all drink the same coffee (Villeneuve, 2006) and the Scent Free Policy information sheet. All materials were translated from English into Arabic, French and Somali.

 

Stage 3: Interviews and Focus Groups Fall 2007
The Fall 2007 Focus Groups and interviews for program participants and community members were intended as follow-up to the Focus Groups of the Spring. The purpose was to see if the strategies we had implemented had made any difference. The questions once again focused on the Scent Free Policy; Confidentiality; Cultural Sensitivity; and Hours of Operation. All materials were translated from English into Arabic, French and Somali.

The Staff Focus Group Agenda was divided into six areas of discussion. The group was asked to comment on: Their values and how they influence their work; What they thought about the effectiveness of the new strategies; What a people-centered approach meant to them; What external factors contribute to inclusion and create barriers to families; What they had learned about social inclusion during the research process; and How should we present our findings. The focus groups were conducted in English.

The Interview Guide for Service Providers consisted of ten questions. Information was gathered on their programs, their relationship with BBBF and with other service providers and what influence BBBF has had on their approach to practice.             All interviews were conducted in English.

During the interviews and focus groups participants were asked to identify what barriers exist to inclusion and to suggest possible strategies to remove those barriers. The study also looked at elements that contribute to a socially inclusive and welcoming community.

Compensation for Interviewees and Focus Group Participants
Each community member and program participant who participated in the interviews or the focus groups was compensated for child care in cash at a rate of $7.50/hour and was offered money to cover any transportation costs. It was the responsibility of the individual to make their own child care arrangements. In the case of some women, they simply brought their children with them to the focus groups where the children played at their feet.  Social Development Canada was approached in the summer of 2007 in regards to offering an honorarium to the participants. The Researcher and the Steering Committee had wanted to offer an honorarium for three reasons. The first was that it would encourage participation in the study. Second, it was important to recognize that the participant’s time was valuable. Finally, it would acknowledge that the participant’s input was important. Unfortunately, the request was denied as honorariums were not an eligible expense under the funding.

Analysis
A content analysis was carried out by identifying major themes and issues for each question. Conceptual clusters developed around groupings of words. All information collected from the participants in the study was aggregated and the names of the participants were omitted from the final report.

The input of the Steering Committee was sought throughout the process. Members were asked to review the various reports to verify their accuracy and to approve their portrayal in print. A small working group composed of staff, participants and a partner social agency representative worked with the Researcher to analyze and devise ways to present the data.

Dissemination of the Results
One of the main goals of action research is to inform and to assist people to work collectively to produce some beneficial change.  In order to achieve this goal, there should be both formal and informal meetings with the Researcher and the participants at every step of the research process. These meetings included focus groups, informal meetings, agency and departmental meetings as well as community meetings. As required by the terms of the funding, results were published in more traditional ways such as written reports. As a community we were mindful that this would render the information inaccessible to some community members and alternative means of dissemination, such as a poster display, were looked at. Efforts were made to ensure that the material was presented in clear, everyday language. The project also made use of Internet technology and information was posted on the BBBF website. Oral presentations were delivered within the community as well as at local, national and international conferences.
Ethics
It was during the development of the initial questionnaires that discussions began on the need for a Research Ethics Board (REB) to review the methodology. In the past, an outside Research Ethics Board (REB) had reviewed research projects conducted at BBBF.  Unfortunately, the Board was unable to continue in that capacity. After looking into several alternatives the decision was made to establish an REB at the South-East Ottawa CHC. The Researcher used the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (1998) as a guide.The Research Ethics Coordinator at Carleton University offered to provide professional guidance in this process.

The Steering Committee wanted an ethics process that fit with the mandate of BBBF and reflected the values of the BBBF community. The Committee strived to achieve a balance in the composition of the Committee which must include at least one male, one long-term resident, an ethnic mix representative of the community, someone who had worked with the community and a community representative with a good knowledge of ethics.

The composition of the REB is very different from more traditional institutional REBs. The goals are the same but the means of getting there are different. Unlike institutional REBs the SEOCHC REB does not maintain an arm’s length distance from the project.
The South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre REB had members who were both staff of BBBF/SEOCHC and were members of the BBBF Steering Committee.  As well, representatives of community agencies also served on both the REB and the BBBF Steering Committee. Finally, some of the members of the REB were also interviewed in the capacity of community member, BBBF staff, or community agency representative.

The Committee met on a number occasion to review the initial proposal, the Annual Progress Report (1 year), and the Amendment to the original proposal. It will reconvene in late summer 2008 to review the second and final Annual Progress Report (year 2).

Consent
Letters of Information and Letters of Consent were developed for all those participating in individual interviews and focus groups. An important consideration in regards to consent was the issue of requiring people to sign a consent form. Given the unique situation of the BBBF community and a general reluctance for many potential participants to sign any formal document, as well as the importance of confidentiality, it was decided that oral consent was acceptable. At the start of the interviews and the second round of focus groups, Consent Letters were reviewed with each participant. It was left up to the individual to choose whether to give written or oral consent.

For the Staff Focus Groups, written consent was obtained. For the Community Member Focus Groups we did not seek consent for the first round of focus groups but did obtain oral consent for the second round. Ethics approval was not sought for the first round of focus groups with the community as they were designed primarily as a vehicle to educate and disseminate information to the community and secondly, as a way to ask further questions, more specific questions.

Informed consent was not sought for the observation part of the research. In making this decision, some important issues needed to be considered. The posting of notices could result in the refusal of some participants to attend programs or seek services and would likely affect the behaviour of the participants. Seeking informed consent could therefore produce biased data. Also, the intent of the observations was not to observe any one individual in particular but the overall functioning of the program or group. This included the layout of the room; the atmosphere; composition of the group; length of visit; their interaction within themselves and service providers, etc.

Due to the changes in privacy legislation and the advent of new forms of media, our photograph consent forms needed to be up-dated. Individuals were requested to sign a consent form with a copy of their photograph attached to it.

 

All individuals involved in the data collection were required to sign a confidentiality agreement. The data collected will be kept until August 31, 2008 at which point it will be destroyed.  Consent forms will be kept for a minimum of five years. The consent forms will be transferred at the end of the project to a secure, off-site location utilized by SEOCHC (August 31, 2008).

Risks
For community members there was the potential for harm if some of the questions posed triggered memories of personal experiences that caused the participant some anxiety or distress.  A professional with counselling skills was made available to talk with participants who needed to speak to someone.  That person was internal to BBBF, but, if there was a conflict of interest, the services of another counsellor would be arranged. Alternate English, French and Spanish speaking counsellors were made available through SEOCHC.  Arrangements were made through the Somali Centre for Family Services to provide counselling services in Somali. Counselling services in Arabic were provided through SEOCHC with the assistance of professional translators. All participants were informed that the nature of focus groups made it impossible to guarantee complete confidentiality. Participants were assured that their access to services would not be affected by their decision to participate or not participate in the research. It was made clear to interviewees that only aggregate information would be included in the final report.

For staff members and outside service providers the risks were quite different. Divergent opinions on the program and the organization could cause uneasiness or concern about identification of the person and their responses with the possibility of retribution including ridicule, loss of job or harassment. Services were made available off-site through SEOCHC for staff members wishing to speak to a counsellor. Staff also had access to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) through SEOCHC.

 

What Makes Our Research Unique?

As stated in the introduction, projects were to be community driven and citizen-led and could include knowledge development, community action, mentoring strategies, models of engagement, or innovative approaches or tools.  The Our Place initiative tried to be creative and innovative in its approach. The following are some examples of what we believe set the research apart from other projects.

Community Driven and Citizen–Led
The South-East Ottawa Better Beginnings Better Futures program is overseen by a community-led Steering Committee. The role of the Committee is to guide the planning, delivery and management of the BBBF program. The Committee maintains an awareness of the needs of families with pre-school aged children and ensures community control by determining directions to address these needs. The Committee is made up of 15 members including community residents, BBBF staff and agency representatives. Meetings are held in the community ten times a year. Current agency representation includes Andrew Fleck Home Child Care Services, City of Ottawa- Parks and Recreation, The Children’s Aid Society of Ottawa, and the Ottawa Catholic School Board. As the community has a long history of being researched, the Steering Committee felt that it was very important that the research would have a tangible benefit to the community as well as considerable community input. The Steering Committee was involved with all aspects of the research from determining the research questions, developing the methods of data collection, analyzing the data, and recommending ways and means to implement strategies to remove barriers to inclusion.

Community Action
Participatory Action Research (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). To that end, participants were drawn from cross-section of the community, while cultural backgrounds, community dynamics, and linguistic requirements were taken into account.  Community members identified the barriers to inclusion and were involved in developing strategies to overcome the barriers. Community members also played an important role in educating their neighbours on new policies and program changes.

Mentoring Strategies
To further ensure community involvement and ownership, the project provided mentoring opportunities for staff, volunteers and community members. It is hoped that once the initiative comes to an end, the lessons learned will continue to positively impact the community in the years to come. Two examples of mentoring strategies are the involvement of the community in the interviewing process and their participation in the creation of the Research Ethics Board.

Interviewing
Community members were hired to conduct the interviews during the initial round of community consultation.  Interviewers who spoke multiple languages were recruited and trained. Staff assisted with the facilitation and translation of focus groups.

South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre (SEOCHC) Research Ethics Board
Early in the research process the decision was made that the SEOCHC 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 comprised of staff, volunteers, community members and local social service agency representatives. It was a courageous move by the community and South-East Ottawa CHC to embark on the process. The success of the REB is a sign of a cohesive group and a reflection of the trust and goodwill that exists between SEOCHC and the community.


A Snapshot of the BBBF Community

The BBBF community is located in the Heatherington/ Albion/ Ledbury/ Fairlea neighbourhoods of South-East Ottawa. It is bounded by Walkley Road to the north, Bank Street to the west, Don Reid to the east and the Ottawa-Carleton Railroad Line to the south.

Population
The BBBF community has a total population of 7342.* According to the 2006 census, the community has a young demographic with 540 children between the ages of 0-4 years and 565 children between 5-9 years.*
There are 1840 census families and of these families 36% are led by lone parents.*

Housing
The neighbourhoods within the BBBF community are made up of primarily high density housing. The mix of housing includes social housing, a co-op, market-rentals units and privately-owned homes. Multi-unit dwellings account for 89.2% of the housing units.* It is also a highly transient neighbourhood with 23.4% of residents having moved into the area within the last year and 46.5% having moved within the last five years.*

Immigration
Thirty-nine per cent of residents are immigrants; while 24% were recent immigrants having arrived within the last 5 years.* A large proportion of the population, 41.5% of residents identify their mother tongue as language other than English or French. * Half of the residents, at 49.6%, self-identify as a visible minority.*

Health
The rate of Low Birth Weight was 5.4 per hundred births, and the preterm birth rate was 7.5 per hundred births. These rates are lower than the Ottawa average and the average for the lowest quintile.**BBBF children show consistently higher scores in the Early Development Instrument domains of physical health and well-being, social competence, emotional maturity, language and cognitive development, communication skills and general knowledge when compared to the Ontario Provincial averages.***

Employment
The unemployment rate within the community is 11.2 %. According to 2001 Census data, the average income for the slightly larger area of Ledbury/Heron Gate/Ridgemeont /Ellwood was
$23,664, over $13,000 below the Ottawa average of $37, 102. The number of residents living below the LICO was significant at thirty-five percent. ****

Sources:
*       2006 Census Data
**     Canadian Community Health Survey, combined data from the 2001, 2003 and 2005 waves
***   Better Beginnings Better Futures: Project Sustainability, Nelson et al. 2005.
**** 2001 Census Data as cited in the Neighbourhood Study

The Seven Research Questions_____________________

The Our Place-Learning in Motion initiative was designed to answer seven questions about the Better Beginnings Better Futures programs. The next section will answer the following questions:

  • What are the values and principles that influence the way of working and what is the impact on processes, structures, relationships and models of service?

 

  • What elements support the inclusion of families with young children in decision making, feedback and reflection?
  • What service delivery characteristics support communities to organise themselves, participate and enhance the well-being of children in the community?

 

  • Is the client-based approach the best and can a client-based approach build on strengths?
  • What external factors have contributes to inclusion or created barriers for families?

 

  • What new knowledge can we add to the literature about social inclusion for families with young children that moves beyond distance, transportation, child care, etc.?
  • What have we learned during this process about community involvement, access, ownership and strength and how can we document this in a meaningful, clear and concise way?

1. What are the values and principles that influence the way of working and what is the impact on processes, structures, relationships and models of service?

Better Beginnings Better Futures operates from an approach called Management from Beside. “Management from beside is a way of working which effects change both internally and externally to management. The focus is two-fold: Organizational harmony and community empowerment” (Charles, 1998, pp. 2).This approach includes a set of six values which guide the program.  These values are:

Process Orientation: an emphasis on process and developing social relations among people, rather than focusing on infrastructure, hierarchy and outcome

People Centeredness: three main features- a focus on all people, not exclusively clients; a respect and acceptance of where all people currently are at, not where it would be most useful to the organization; and the creation of an environment for all people to develop and grow.

Democratic Leadership: an approach to management that requires that staff share equally in the decision-making and power-sharing

Boundary Diffusion: involves the integration and overlap of personal and professional boundaries among staff in terms of roles, work, space

Modelling: refers to patterning and reinforcing particular kinds of behaviour in order to emphasize and support the values and skills inherent to that behaviour

Holistic: refers to treating the whole rather than separate parts- working with the whole family not just the parents or just the children (Charles, 1998)

Better Beginnings Better Futures also operates on a set of principles largely based on the goals of the model outlined in the original South-East Ottawa Community Resources proposal. These principles include:

  • Individual and environmental enhancement,
  • Accessibility,
  • Non-stigmatizing,
  • Involvement of the whole family,
  • Integration with other service providers,
  • High community involvement,
  • Comprehensiveness), and
  • High quality.

The organizers were committed to incorporating these principles into all aspects of the program. How do these values and principles impact on the delivery of service and what is the reaction from the community?

Processes:
BBBF places an emphasis on simplifying the processes people must follow to access programs and services. This means that there are no application processes and minimal registration requirements. As illustrated by the following quotes, what is important is that the people experience the processes as being more personal and less bureaucratic.

“The program offers more personal help and on longer term and with a constant follow-up which makes us feel more important and valued.” (Community Resident)

“People don’t have to follow difficult requirement to receive or access services.  There is no bureaucracy” (Community Resident)

 

Structures:
The structures adopted by BBBF are non-hierarchical and deliberately blur the lines between staff, volunteers and residents. In keeping with this, the Community House tries to offer a warm, home-like setting. There are very few signs on the walls and staff members do not wear ID badges. 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.

 “I can call my family visitor or (Family Visitor Coordinator). I know someone will call me the same day if I need diapers or bus tickets.  I don’t have to wait 24 hours for a call back” (Community Resident)

Relationships:

BBBF stresses the importance of trusting and long-lasting relationships that resemble the family as much as possible.  Many of the residents are recent immigrants with little or no social support or extended family network.  Creating the supports that would otherwise come from a family member is very important.

 “As I am new to Canada, and have no close relatives here, I have feeling like I’m asking my mom or one of my family and I find a lot of support that may compensate my family backing up.” (Community Resident)

“I’m always well greeted at the Community House with a smile and the staff are enthusiastic to respond to my needs such as getting the milk and eggs or copying and faxing things for me.” (Community Resident)

It is not only the staff who are trying to establish supportive relationships, but the program itself tries to create opportunities for residents to come together and forge new relationships amongst themselves.

“My friends and I call the playgroup the big family home.  We go to playgroup many times, especially on Friday since back home on Friday; all of us visit together the family house and spend the whole day together.  We do same thing to compensate and to feel the same feeling as in our country.”(Community Resident)

Models of Service Delivery:

As part of the models of service delivery, there are three main program areas offered by BBBF; Family Visiting, Parent and Child Programs, and Community Programs. Family Visiting is based on a paraprofessional model. Family Visitors provide social support, information on pregnancy, childbirth, nutrition, child development and family issue, and linkages to other community services. The family visitors see their roles as providing as much information and support as possible so that their families can make informed choices. The goal is to provide the kind of support that would come from a family member.
“It is a big family to care for. After families have aged out of the program or they move away, they still stay in touch.  We are close to a family structure.”(Staff Member)
“I feel like I’m a learning mood when I am interacting with the family visitor.”(Community Resident)
“A family visitor who speaks my language and is familiar with my traditions makes everything easy for me and breaks down obstacles.” (Community Resident)
Parent/Child Programsprovide opportunities for parents to enhance their competencies and confidence in their role as parents, to promote adult social interaction, education through modelling and optimal child development. The two main programs are the Playgroup and the Community Nurse. The Playgroup Coordinator strives to create a safe nurturing environment.  She does not tell a parent how to deal with a child.  Instead she models appropriate behaviour and provides a visible example of how to handle a child in distress, how to provide opportunities to make choices or respond to a child’s request.
“Children can relax.  They are not pushed or rushed. The child is the leader.  We follow their lead.”(Staff Member)

The Community Nurse came to BBBF from a traditional clinical orientation. In her previous nursing role, her work was mostly related to tasks such as weighing babies, taking blood pressure, etc.  In her current role, she has placed an emphasis on developing relationships with people first before she gives them any health advice.  It is important that people have the time to get to know her and accept her. She believes that her role is further enhanced by going out into the community and visiting with people in their homes because it helps her to understand the social context of the person she is working with.
 (I received) Support with my first pregnancy from (community nurse) and my Family Visitor. My doctor never had the time to answer my questions or concerns.”(Community Resident)
Community Programs promote cooperation and integration between the rich diversity of families in the community and promote healthy, safe neighbourhood environments. One of the main programs is the Community Connections program which provides services to immigrants and refugees.  As an example, one woman who received services from the Community Connections program has gone on to become a settlement officer with a local immigration agency.
“My program tries to bring people in. We help people to build up skills and confidence to deal with issues…We learn by helping people deal with their issues.”(Community Connections Coordinator)
Community events are held throughout the year. The big event of the year is the Community Celebration held during the last week of school in June. Staff begin planning in early May for the outdoor party complete with games, music, food and prizes. Volunteers materialize from within the community, the South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre and other social agencies. The party is an important opportunity for people to get together, visit with old and new friends, and celebrate all that is positive in their community.
 


2. What elements support the inclusion of families with young children in decision making, feedback and reflection?

“The present research is a clear example of how BBBF makes people to feel included because they are considering the participation of people who live here.” (Community Resident)

This section will discuss the three key concepts introduced in the question: decision making, feedback and reflection, followed by an examination of the elements that support inclusion.

Decision making
We all make decisions about our lives, each and every day.  These decisions involve other people, either because they will be affected by our decisions or because their opinion is important.  Sometimes, our freedom to make important life decisions is limited by forces beyond our control, perhaps by poverty, physical health, and public policies. We all have different abilities for making decisions about our lives.  Our ways of making decisions are often shaped by whether we are male or female, our family background, our culture, our education, and our role or station in life.

At BBBF opportunities are created for residents to participate in the decision making process.  At a program level, the community representatives on the BBBF Steering Committee hold the majority vote.  At Playgroup, there is no set program or schedule.  Instead it is the parent and the child that decide on the activities and when to have snacks. On a more individual level, clients are informed by the family visitor about program options and are supported in their choice of options. All individuals are encouraged to involve other family members in the decision-making process.  
“The more choice you give people, the better.”(Community Resident)

“The children are very independent at Playgroup.  Children gain confidence there.” (Community Resident)

Feedback

Well-presented, well-received, timely and appropriate feedback can be invaluable. By learning to receive feedback, we can learn about how other people experience us, and consequently about ourselves. We can learn how to hear difficult things. We can learn about the effectiveness of our behaviour to achieve our intentions. Through feedback we can monitor our progress and thereby plan further development. By means of feedback we can receive honest and trustworthy encouragement or constructive criticism. Feedback is material open to discussion, and on which it is possible subsequently to reflect.

The Our Place–Learning in Motion research initiative has provided numerous opportunities to residents and staff to give feedback on the program and the research. The purpose of the second phase of the research was to share information about program changes made as a result of the research and to receive feedback on these changes. As an example, with respect to the no-scent policy, people were asked specifically, if they were wearing scent, how would they like to be approached by staff members?

“We try to take people outside to tell them about the policy. We are respectful of them.”(Staff Member)

“I was taken aside on the first visit and told about the (no-scent) policy.  I went home, changed and returned the same day.” (Community Resident)

Reflection
Reflection is a process by which we think about our beliefs, our actions and our experiences. It is an opportunity to think about the changes that we need to make in our work and in our relationships. It can be done individually through introspection or in group discusions or both.  The techniques used in reflection can include thinking, talking, listening, and asking questions.
The BBBF program does provide opportunities for reflection for staff. This indirectely affects families and their childen. There is time set aside during staff meeting and team retreats for reflection. This can have a positive impact on families and their chilren, as we know if staff learn reflective skills, they will be able to transfer these skills to residents.
“The check-ins sometimes takes forever. But it is also important.  We need to know where others are at because it will impact on their work.”(Staff Member)

“There is a lot of reciprocity between us and our home visitors.”(Community Resident)

3. What service delivery characteristics support communities to organize themselves, participate and enhance the well-being of children in the community?

An important characteristic of BBBF is that it strives to provide a one-stop approach to service delivery. This approach allows community members to access multiple services in one location. The drop-in nature of the program also allows someone to come to the house without any identified need other than a desire to have a cup of coffee or to find out what is happening in the community. While in the Community House, community members are free to access services or information if they desire.
Another characteristic is that the BBBF program facilities are located in the heart of the Heatherington Community Housing Project. The BBBF Community House is located in a unit provided by Ottawa Community Housing at a minimal charge. It is a four bedroom row house with a small backyard. On the main floor, the living room serves as a lounge and the kitchen houses the office and reception area. The bedrooms upstairs have been converted into offices for the Program Managers, the Family Visitors, the Community Nurse and the newcomer program, Community Connections. The unfinished basement provides space for the Clothing Bank and storage.
“It’s great to have the Community House so close. It makes me feel good knowing help is not far away.” (Community Resident)
“It feels like my family because I can go any time, take coffee and chat with anybody there.” (Community Resident)
 “BBBF should expand the services in the community, having a doctor on a regular basis in the Community House.” (Community Resident)
The Playgroup program is located a few steps away from the Community House in the Albion-Heatherington Community Centre. It has a large open area inside with a kitchen.  The area just outside includes a playground with a modern play structure.
“What I like to see is that there is never a “Full” sign at playgroup. I often see this at other groups. It is so frustrating for people who have bundled kids up and travelled to playgroup only to be told they can’t come in.”(Agency Representative)
“My friends who are living far away envy me that at our neighbourhood, we have such a priceless program.” (Community Resident)
 “The reason I think we are so successful is that we are located in the community.” (Staff Member)

 

The downside of being located in the heart of the community is that anybody can see you coming and going from the Community House. There is a stigma attached for some people about accessing assistance. There was some disappointment expressed that BBBF had not negotiated space in the new City-owned community centre. Having services located in a multi-service centre could allow people to access services perhaps more anonymously.

“It is still hard for some people to say “Help me”. They don’t want people talking behind their backs. Oh, did you see she went to the foodbank.  It is important to understand what is normal and what isn’t normal within their culture.”(Agency Representative)
Staff members located in the Community House work in very close quarters. This can have both positive and negative aspects to it. Being in such a small work space helps facilitate communication and the exchange of information between staff members. Often times a staff can just walk a client down the hall to access services from another staff person.
“I have gone in the last couple of days because I am writing a letter to help my mother get out of Lebanon. I went to the House and everyone helped me with the letter.  It is important that you have that kind of help.”(Community Resident)
A constant challenge is the lack of space.  If a staff member wishes to have a confidential discussion with a client, they need to ask other staff members to leave the room. The lack of space contributed to the closing of the playroom in the Community House in order to provide more space for staff. Some participants expressed disappointment that there isn’t the space at the Community House anymore for children to play. The feeling was that the Community House is not a child centered place anymore.
Very small place. Although welcoming there is not privacy to talk to the counsellors about your concerns.” (Community Resident)
“There isn’t space here anymore for children to play. The House is not a child centred place anymore. There is not enough space to accommodate all the spokes in the wheel that need service.”(Staff Member)
One final characteristic is that community residents are encouraged to participate by becoming volunteers and taking the initiative to propose new activities or services. An example of this is the Extra Neighbourhood Food Cupboard which was founded in 2000 by a group of concerned community residents. BBBF supported this initiative by providing space, assistance with fund-raising, and in negotiating with the Ottawa Food Bank. When residents were asked why they participate by volunteering for committees, at the Community House or in other ways for BBBF, residents responded that they wanted to give back to the community, it gave them a sense of belonging, and it made them feel good about themselves.

 

 

 

 

Question 4: Is the client-based approach the best and can a client-based approach build on strengths?

We are not clinical. There is no door to hide behind.”(Staff Member)

What is a client-based approach? Client-based therapy was developed in the 1930’s by the American psychologist Carl Rogers. His approach differed from the typically formal, detached role of the therapist emphasized in psychotherapy and other forms of treatment. Rogers believed that therapy should take place in a supportive environment created by a close personal relationship between client and therapist. The worker’s approach according to Rogers should be non-directive, non-judgemental and should involve active listening, accurate empathy and authentic friendship (Payne 2005:186). Rogers believed that the most important factor in successful therapy was not the therapist's skill or training, but rather his or her attitude.

At BBBF they have taken Rogers’ ideas on individual counselling one step further and adapted it to the larger realm of community work. In recent years BBBF has moved from using the term “client-based” to “people-centred” a further indication of their departure from a traditional clinical approach.

To answer the above question, from the perspective of the staff, they believe that the client-based approach is the best. Staff members believe that a client-based approach creates a close trusting relationship that would not otherwise be possible. Using this approach as a guiding principle, staff members see clients as equals.

When I go into a home, I see her (the client) as an equal not one up.  I establish a relationship first, this includes trust. My goal is to establish a relationship, it has its set backs.  It takes more time but in the long run it is worth it. I am not as efficient or organized but I may be more successful. (Staff Member)

A client-based approach also places the client in a position of power. The client will control which services to access and how and when to access them.  This was further validated by a quote from another staff member, let the client steer the boat”.
Although they did not use the term client-based, it is clear that many community members recognize that the staff members are using the approach as the following quotes indicate:
“They establish relationships with people equally and without discrimination”

“I got more support from the people at BBBF than my own family.  I don’t know what I would do without BBBF?”

Generally, therefore, the community members also agree that the client-based approach is the best and does build on strengths as the following quote from another resident indicates.
“My family visitor is like a mother to me. She gives me support, encouragement, and lots of ideas to be a good mother and to be self-sufficient.”

However, the client-based approach is not without some drawbacks. Some staff members expressed concern about the toll it takes. Caring for such a large family comes with its downside and may lead to burn-out.
“We are all dealing with issues, whether they are work related or personal. The impact of caring for others is that it burns us all.  We forget to care for ourselves.”

“We are always being told to be flexible.  We change our schedules to accommodate them.  We do whatever the client needs us to do.  I feel like putty or clay.  You are constantly being moulded.”

With respect to building on strengths, staff members were asked to identify their greatest strengths. They believed that their racial and cultural diversity were strengths.  Another strength is that staff members support each other and believe that each member has much to contribute in terms of their differing perspectives. Other strengths included being non-judgmental and flexible. Community members also identified what they felt were strengths.  They believe in the community and have a positive view of the community. As a result, they were motivated to participate in community committees such as the Steering Committee, helping at the Community House or volunteering at community events.

“I feel for me BBBF is a good place, I am proud of what BBBF is doing for me and the community.” (Community Resident)

5. What external factors have contributed to inclusion or created barriers for families?___________________________________________

“How can we have social inclusion when we are dependent on others for the basics….We are dependent on the generosity of others for which we must be grateful.”(Staff Member)

The external factors that have contributed to inclusion or created barriers are associated with certain key organizations. The Government of Canada, the Ontario Government, the City of Ottawa, Ottawa Community Housing Inc., Ottawa Police Services and South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre have had a tremendous impact on social inclusion in the BBBF community.

The Government of Canada
The policies of the federal government with respect to immigration have resulted in dramatic changes in the profile of the BBBF community.  The number of recent immigrants has risen to 39 percent with 24% arriving in the last 5 years and half of the BBBF residents (49.6%) self identifying as belonging to a visible minority group (see Snapshot of the Community, p. 22).  The impact of these changes in terms of ensuring inclusion cannot be over estimated. The capacity of the organization to serve such a diverse and changing population in terms of language, cultural competency, etc. is being stretched to its limit.  Many of these new immigrants come without material or more importantly, social supports. Many have little understanding of how our health and social services function or what they can expect from these services.

“I come from outside Canada.  I grow up in a different culture and a different way of disciplining kids.  Here I learn through a lot of groups and presentations many different programs regarding mothers and kids. As the community is new to me, by BBBF I got a lot of encouragement and information about how to get driver’s licence, gym fitness, swimming, learn English.” (Community Resident)

“Some husbands scared of such kinds of services and programs.” (Community Resident)

“Scared from the family visitor. maybe they have an idea that the family visitor will interfere with their way of raising and disciplining their kids.”(Community Resident)

The high mobility rate in the community and the above comments, highlight how important it is for staff to be continually educating the community about BBBF, the services they provide and their approach to service delivery.

The Government of Ontario
Since 1997, the Provincial Government has provided full and stable funding for BBBF. What this means for the staff and residents is that the program is not grant driven. Community residents are able to trust that the programs and services will be available over an extended period of time.  Staff members are able to make a long term commitment to their jobs, to the community and to their clients.

“People are volunteering to be part of us. 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 and we became included in their lives.”(Staff Member)

“Family Visitors become family over a long period of time.” (Community Resident)

The City of Ottawa
The next organization that has had a major impact on inclusion is the City of Ottawa. Over the past two years, the City of Ottawa together with the Richcraft Group of Companies has worked to improve the local park. Heatherington Park has new pathways, lighting, play structures, and a new splash pad. In addition to the new park, Heatherington will also be receiving a new recreation centre. The new centre will include a 3,000 square foot gym and 1,200 square foot multipurpose room and a small room available for meetings. These improvements will have many benefits for the community including a safer, more kid-friendly place to socialize. It is hoped that this will foster a greater sense of community and that the increased services will make it a more attractive place to live.

 “Lots of trust has been built up between the City and BBBF staff and their clients. We try to deal with issues immediately, like at BBBF. We try to reduce the red tape. We don’t send people away to fill out forms.” (Staff Member)

City of Ottawa staff have worked hard to forge relationships with BBBF staff and community members. Staff at the Albion Heatherington Recreation Centre identified many ways in which their program complements BBBF programs and services. Over the years a reciprocal relationship has developed with both BBBF and City staff writing letters of support for one another for grant applications. BBBF Family Visitors and City of Ottawa staff have been collaborating to help residents to navigate their way through the registration process for recreation programs. It is important that the two programs are not in competition with each other for clients. Both try to provide complementary services and assist each other by sharing equipment and advertising each others programs.

In terms of creating barriers, BBBF staff members have expressed concerns about the frequent changes in policies for major City administered programs such as Ontario Disabilities Support Programs or Ontario Works.  The following statements by staff members make the point: As one worker stated,

“If we find it difficult to access information, imagine how hard it must be for some of our clients.”  (Staff Member)

“There is a lack of information regarding government policies.  We need to know about new policies so we can advise our clients and advocate for them.” (Staff Member)

Ottawa Community Housing Inc.
As the main landlord for many community members in the neighbourhoods that BBBF serves, Ottawa Community Housing Inc. (OCH) can have a significant impact on increasing inclusion to further enhance the vitality, cohesion, and harmony of these neighbourhoods. Things such as a strong Tenants Association, prompt conflict resolution, easy access of services, prompt repairs to residences, and strong working relationship with other partners can increase inclusion, while the reverse will create an exclusionary environment. To increase access and inclusion, the staff of BBBF have been working very closely with the OCH staff over the years to make OCH service more stable and reliable.  

Ottawa Police Services

“We need improved safety in the community.” (Community Resident)

Over the years, BBBF has worked hard to develop relationships with the police officers in the community. This has been somewhat complicated by the frequent changes in police staffing. This past year, officers were invited to a BBBF staff meeting so both parties could share information on the community and their respective roles. BBBF staff appreciated suggestions on how they could best support community members to address their concerns. Police were reminded that community members may be hesitant to speak to them because of past experiences with authorities in their home countries or due to fear of reprisals by other community members. Members of the Ottawa Police Services are also invited to attend the BBBF Community Celebration in June of each year. It provides an opportunity for the community to interact with the police in a more informal and relaxed manner. The Community Liaison Worker for this research project was also invited to present to the new police recruits in the spring of this year on the subject of cultural competency.

 

South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre

The South-East Ottawa Community Health Centre is the parent organization for the BBBF program in Ottawa. As a program of SEOCHC, BBBF is governed by the same policies and procedures. Some of these policies have been a support to inclusion while others have created barriers. What works in a larger agency environment does not always translate well into the community setting. An example of a policy that has been a support to inclusion is the fact that community residents have been encouraged to sit on SEOCHC committees to ensure community participation in decision-making. On the other hand, a recent example of a policy that has created a barrier to some residents is the Scent-Free Workplace policy. SEOCHC has a strict scent-free policy for all its facilities. BBBF has observed a drop in the number of individuals from cultures who traditionally use incense and perfumes attending programs.

“It is very difficult in certain cultures to comply with the no-scent policy. Many people have incense in their homes and it is on their clothing. They may not even be aware of it.”

6. What new knowledge can we add to the literature about social inclusion for families with young children that moves beyond distance, transportation, child care, etc?
 
In the first phase of the research, a literature review on social inclusion was completed. The review looked at the origins of the term, an appropriate definition of the term, related literature on participation by families in health and social programs and community life, and an examination of the impact a “healthy” inclusive community has on its residents. This section will highlight some of the new knowledge that the Our Place initiative can add to the literature.

A Community Definition of Social Inclusion
After a careful review of the existing literature, the Better Beginnings Better Futures Steering Committee adopted the following definition of social inclusion as they felt it best reflected the goals of BBBF and the Our Place–Learning in Motion initiative.

Social and economic inclusion is the ability to participate reciprocally in your community or society, to have control over your own resources, equality of opportunity and the ability to affect change in your family or your community for the benefit of yourself or your society as a whole. 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.

In discussions about inclusive or healthy communities, research on social inclusion has looked at the direct link between the participation of disadvantaged families in social and health programs and community life and social inclusion (Social Planning Council, 2007; Watson, et al., 2005; Friendly & Lero, 2002).

The four main themes that emerged from the research in terms of the lessons learned about social inclusion are 1) inclusion means making choices, 2) inclusion requires time and effort, 3) recognition of the needs of everyone, and 4) reciprocity. With respect to choices, it important to recognize that many decisions involve trade-offs, and what creates inclusion for some will create barriers for others. It is impossible to reach a consensus on every decision. We learned that building and maintaining relationships is essential to achieving social inclusion. It is however very time consuming.  The third theme stresses the importance of recognizing the needs of everyone, not just the children and the immediate family but staff and the larger community as well. Finally, in terms of reciprocity, it recognizes the two-way relationship as community members learn from staff while at the same time staff also learn from community members.  There is a sharing of knowledge and power.

Further, the research revealed a number of elements that support social inclusion. Those frequently mentioned by staff and residents include an openness to different cultures, flexibility in programming, non-judgemental staff, consistency in staff and services, and opportunities to participate. Social inclusion must be seen as a partnership between the community and the program. It means residents must not only feel part of the BBBF community but the larger society as well. To help facilitate this, SEOCHC staff should be encouraged to come and visit the Community House and BBBF should provide orientation to other agencies about their programs.
           
When research participants were asked specifically what they learned about social inclusion, this is what they had to say.

“…How important it is for people to be greeted and treated properly.” (Volunteer)

“..How big the issue of privacy is in such a small community.  The challenges of living in a housing project where one house is right up against another.”(Volunteer)

“I learned a lot through the Steering Committee. Who we serve and who we don’t.  I think it is very important to be part of a group. If you are left out it is very hard.” (Community Resident)

 

In spite of broad based support for the goal of promoting social inclusion, the research also identified significant challenges. The main one is that, in a very racially and culturally diverse community, what creates inclusion for some results in exclusion for others.  One example is the lack of signage and name tags in the Community House.  With the goal of creating a warm, home-like environment, there is limited use of signage in the Community House. 

“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 at an inconvenient time. I question if I did something wrong.”(Community Resident)

 

            Another example is the implementation of the Scent-Free Workplace policy.  Due to health concerns arising from exposure to scented products, SECHC developed a policy to provide a scent-free environment for all staff, volunteers, clients, and community residents. It quickly became evident that enforcement of this policy resulted in some groups feeling excluded from the program. Discussions are still on-going as to how to best accommodate the community while also complying with the centre-wide policy.
“Some people feel that even when they try to comply with the policy, that the staff don’t recognize their efforts.  They feel that staff continue to avoid them by leaving the room.”(Community Resident)

“I won’t come back because of the way I was treated.”(Community Resident)

“The no-scent policy…Many people felt that they were being attacked. People didn’t understand the policy.  It created conversations about the policy.  People started to get good information and they started teaching each other.”(Agency Representative)

The most important lesson learned about social inclusion is that it gives people an opportunity to be included, to participate in the decisions affecting their lives, and to feel that they can make a valuable contribution to their community.

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.”(Staff Member)

7. What have we learned during this process about community involvement, access, ownership and strength and how can we document this in a meaningful, clear and concise way?

“We will never get it perfect.”(Staff Member)

To answer this final question, we will examine the successes, the benefits, and the challenges identified by the research.

Successes
In terms of the successes of the Our Place–Learning in Motion research initiative; there was broad participation by residents, staff members, volunteers, and representatives of various community organizations and agencies. Using a Participatory Action Research approach and with the involvement of these groups on the Steering Committee and Working Groups, the research did succeed in being community driven. People felt that they owned the research as they actively participated in the implementation of all phases. Community participation helped to create decisions that were informed and understood. The research was conducted in a manner that built trust in the community by allowing many participants to speak freely and openly.  The Steering Committee created its own Research Ethics Board to oversee the project, a new and exciting development in community-based research. The results of the research were disseminated very broadly at local, national and international conferences. As a result, the research provided opportunities for growth within the whole community thereby increasing the level of social capital and contributed to new knowledge about social inclusion. The following quotes will further highlight how staff and community members feel about the research.

“It has been a very positive experience for me, understanding that it pays to relate to people especially participants, clients, and community members as people at their level.”(Staff Member)

“The present research is a clear example of how BBBF makes people to feel included because they are considering the participation of people who live here.”(Community Resident)

 

Benefits

The BBBF community has had a long history of being researched. The Steering Committee, therefore, insisted that if BBBF was to participate in this research initiative, the research must result in direct benefits to the community. The benefits included the fact that the research identified the issues that were important to the community. Therefore, the community was able to move forward on these issues. Some of these issues identified were:

  • The lack of program information
  • Concerns around privacy and confidentiality
  • Stigma around receiving help
  • Language barriers
  • Hours of Operation
  • Lack of programming for men and their children.

Strategies to overcome these barriers included 1) handouts were developed in five languages and the web site was redesigned, 2) focus groups were held for community residents on confidentiality at BBBF, 3) new welcoming practices were introduced at the Community House and Playgroup 4) cultural competency training for staff members was held, and 5) one-year funding for a Dads & Tots Playgroup was obtained.

The research provided an opportunity for the staff to receive validation for the work they have been doing. The research also provided a reaffirmation of the BBBF core values as listed in question one, including people centeredness, a process orientation with a focus on developing relationships, and democratic leadership to name a few.

“Residents have noticed that the staff are much more welcoming. Someone always comes and asks, ‘can I help you’. The welcoming policy is working.” (Community Resident)

“I’ve heard a lot of positives about BBBF.”(Agency Representative)

“I am very satisfied and I hope that you will continue to be there forever.”(Community Resident)

 

 

Challenges

The research identified several challenges that the researchers faced in conducting the research. These challenges included the fact that the BBBF community is linguistically and cultural diverse and the limited capacity of the researchers to accommodate such a varied population, that the community had a history of being researched, the balancing act between the timelines imposed by the Funder and the pace at which the community was able to engage in the research, the various levels of knowledge about research among staff, residents and agency representative, and finally trust. It was important that the research be conducted in such a way so as not to compromise the program.

“I learned that it (social inclusion) is a long process. It was a lot of work for the researchers to find people to participate and to be heard.”(Community Resident)

Conclusion______________________________________

Our Place-Learning in Motion was a research initiative to help staff, volunteers and community residents explore the barriers to participation and identify strategies that promote social inclusion of children and families in the Better Beginnings Better Futures community. It used a Participatory Action Research approach to ensure that the research was conducted with and for people, rather than doing research on them.  As such, the project was overseen by a Steering Committee made up of agency representatives, staff, and community representatives with the majority of committee members coming from the BBBF community. The Steering Committee defined what is meant by social inclusion, helped develop the methodology, created its own Research Ethics Board, and reviewed drafts of the interim and final reports.   The PAR approach ensured that the ownership of the project rested in the hands of the community.

Creating its own Ethics Board proved challenging because there was little in the literature about community-based ethics boards. However, with advice from the Research Ethics Coordinator at Carleton University Ethics Review Committee, the Steering Committee created an innovative community-based ethics board which may serve as an example to other community-based research projects.

The role of the Researcher was that of facilitator and to act as a “porte-parole”. The French term, porte-parole, means “carrier of the words”.  Central to this project, was the belief that the voices of the BBBF community were to be reflected throughout the research process and in this final report.  
Much was learned throughout the process about the elements that support social inclusion. Again, the main elements identified in the research included an openness to different cultures, flexibility in programming, non-judgemental staff, consistency in staff and services, and opportunities to participate. Some of the barriers that were noted; a lack of information on programs, concerns about privacy and confidentiality, stigma about receiving help, language and cultural barriers, the hours of operation and lack of space. Having learned about what supports inclusion and what the barriers are, the community now has the knowledge to address them.
The Our Place – Learning in Motion research project was an opportunity for the BBBF community to reflect on where it came from and where it is going.  Overall, the results proved to be an affirmation of the original goals of the BBBF program: to promote optimal social, emotional, behavioural and cognitive development; strengthen the ability of communities to respond to the needs of children and families; and reduce the incidence of serious long-term emotional and behavioural problems.

 

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