The appeal for action made by the department of public health of the Montreal Health and Social Services Agency (DPH) following the release of the survey data led to the extension and consolidation of actor networks involved in early childhood issues, both regionally and locally. These networks of actors took ownership of the survey data, planning and implementing actions they judged pertinent and feasible. Two important collective decisions were characteristic of this process. First, at the end of the 15-month summit phase, regional and local actors collectively managed to transform child school readiness into an important social issue and called for mobilization for action. Second, during the post-summit period, local solutions were structured around the idea that child development issues or problems of school readiness could be reduced through the increased availability and accessibility of services for vulnerable children in the community. The following analysis presents the chain of key events and the actors involved in elaborating these decisions.
3.1. The Collective Decision-Making Process during the Summits: The Transformation of Survey Results into an Important Social Issue
A series of seven sequential and occasionally overlapping events provided the framework for the decision-making process during the summit phase. It is important to note that while preparing the Survey of the School Readiness of Montreal Children to be conducted in 2006, the survey’s instigators met with the principal early childhood actors in the 12 HSSC territories to inform them of the survey objectives and the proposed mobilization approach. This tour also served as an opportunity to consult communities on the establishment of territorial divisions smaller than HSSC territories, more representative of actual living environments, and more useful from an intervention perspective.
presents information on the Survey of the School Readiness of Montreal Children
and the Montreal Summit Initiative on School Readiness
(2005–2008) that chronologically lists some of the events that ensued.
Montreal Summit initiative on School Readiness.
Montreal Summit initiative on School Readiness.
| ||Stakeholders involved||Accomplishments||Important dates|
|Survey en route pour l’école !||A survey conducted by the DPH Partners: Lucie and André Chagnon Foundation
The 5 Montreal school boards
Research unit on children’s psychosocial maladjustment (GRIP)
Centre 1,2, 3 Go!
Social Development Canada
Met with school boards to enlist their collaboration in collecting data.
Met with the main early childhood stakeholders in each of Montreal’s 12 HSSC to inform them of the survey objectives and of mobilization efforts
Defined the new divisions in Montreal (more significant for communities) into 101 neighbourhoods
Collected data from educators
Produced and released a series of reports that present a portrait of the school readiness of Montreal children using the Early Development Instrument (EDI) to measure the five domains of readiness
|2005 February 2006 February 2008|
|Local summits||Led by: the 12 HSSC, in collaboration with: local partners Support from: DPH|
Organized and carried out 12 local summits (1 per HSSC territory), each of which reached over 100 people
Fruitful exchanges that fostered a shared interpretation of the situation, leading to identification of a number of challenges and avenues for solutions regarding resource development, service organization and ways to work with children and families
Wrote 12 synthesis reports on discussions held during the summits (with the help of notes taken by the DPH during various activities)
Defined three action priorities for each territory
|Fall 2008 to Spring 2009|
|Montreal Summit||Comité régional pour une action concertée en développement de l’enfant |
Organized and carried out two theme days (the role of parents and distinctive characteristics of Montreal) that brought to the fore specific issues prior to the local summits
Conducted iterative analyses of information emerging from local summits to ensure the Montreal Summit is in line with local concerns
Carried out the Montreal Summit
Promoted the three priorities established by the HSSC and their partners
|Overview of the process||DPH|
Disseminated a synthesis document outlining the main concerns expressed by a majority of partners throughout the summits initiative
Disseminated a video of the highlights of the Montreal Summit on school readiness (28 May 2009)
3.1.1. Publication of Survey Results—February 2008
In February 2008, the DPH published the results of the Survey of the School Readiness of Montreal Children. Given the finding that 35% of Montreal children were vulnerable in at least one developmental area when they started school, it was stated that the time of “one-size-fits-all” solutions was past, and that it was important to look at what was working locally and to fine-tune the interventions. Concurrently, it appealed for cooperation among the various actors concerned with preparing children for school (health, education, and daycare services networks, community groups, the City and philanthropic groups). It was at this moment that the Summit Initiative was announced. The Initiative would use Montreal’s public health infrastructure comprised of the DPH and the 12 HSSC, which would assume responsibility for implementing the initiative at the local level from February 2008 to May 2009. At the end of the 12 local summits—one per HSSC territory— and to conclude the process, a regional event would be held to which all Montreal early childhood actors would be invited.
3.1.2. Involvement of Regional Intersectoral Partners in the Summit Process—March 2008
In March 2008, the DPH called on its regional partners to join it in the summit process. A regional intersectoral collaborative body (RIC) was created bringing together partners from the health care network, education, daycare, community and charitable organizations, and from the Ministry of Immigration. City of Montreal officials (from the library network and the social development sector) asked to be included in order to participate in the collective discussion, as they considered themselves as having an informal educator role in early childhood support. The RIC's mandate included support for the summit process as well as ownership of the survey data. This included reflecting on the issues raised by the researchers in their report, that is, accessibility and quality of childcare services and kindergarten for four-year-olds; the capacity of public policies and programs to lift families out of poverty and reduce social inequalities; and convergent and complementary actions.
3.1.3. Act 7 and the Creation of the Fund for Early Childhood Development—March 2008
In March 2008, only a few brief weeks after the survey results had been released, the Government of Quebec announced in its budget the introduction of Bill 7, creating the Fund for Early Childhood Development in partnership with a private foundation. The fund, for which one of the justifications was the survey results, was intended to inject CAD$400 million over 10 years into local initiatives targeting children aged five and under living in poverty. The Government of Quebec then launched a public hearing in which 19 organizations took part. The Government concluded that most organizations agreed with the fund. However, a press release was immediately issued by a federation of family associations rectifying the Government’s conclusions and stating that only seven organizations stood in support of the fund, while eight groups were calling for either a moratorium on the bill or its withdrawal. The bill was nevertheless adopted in the fall of 2009, and the public-philanthropic partnership launched its activities in the spring of 2010.
3.1.4. Theme Days and Discussions in Preparation for the Summits—2008–2009
Other issues in addition to the ones submitted to actors by the RIC in the survey report emerged as a result of the mobilization, and were initially explored by the RIC in preparatory discussions for the summits. The RIC organized two theme days, one devoted to the role of parents in service development, and the other to ethnic diversity, population mobility, and poverty—unique Montreal concerns. In the actors’ opinion, it was vital that discussions of the provision of services take into account the fact that every five years 20% of the population of Montreal changes, while 43% moves to a different neighbourhood. These activities primarily brought together actors from the health care network in addition to RIC members.
A discussion day, this time reserved solely for members of the RIC, permitted representatives of the Ministry of the Family (childcare services) and Ministry of Education to present their programs and overviews of the services they provided. However, the issues of childcare accessibility and quality and the development of kindergarten for four-year-olds were not specifically addressed in order to avoid undermining the spirit of dialogue, as partners were of different opinions as to the type of educational setting best suited to four-year-olds. The RIC also held another internal discussion on the day-to-day difficulties faced by community organizations.
These discussion days led to the creation of working groups, made up of RIC members and operating outside regular meetings, to explore certain topics in greater detail in preparation for the regional summit.
3.1.5. DPH Support for the Organization of Local Summits—2008–2009
Certain HSSCs perceived the mandate of organizing local summits as a command issued by the DPH while others, having been told of the survey in 2005, were ready and willing to mobilize their community. The HSSCs generally acknowledge that it was in their mandate to organize such a process in their community. However, they also recognized that the organization of the summit required leadership-sharing with the community and, with the exception of one territory, established organizing committees made up of intersectoral partners.
The DPH provided the 12 HSSCs with support, notably in the form of funding. At their request, it produced a guide for the organization of the events, suggesting strategic actors to invite and proposing a procedure to be followed and topics of discussion (Samson, 2008). To help actors assimilate the data, researchers put several tools at their disposal: (1) detailed reports by school board (5), school (203), HSSC and neighbourhood (12), a regional report, and a summary report; (2) a map of public early childhood programs in local territories; and (3) a summary table of school readiness and socioeconomic indices by HSSC territories and neighbourhoods.
In preparation for the local summits, the researchers made themselves available for two pre-summit meetings in each territory to discuss the survey data. These meetings permitted the researchers to learn of some criticisms of the survey, provoked notably by the somewhat alarmist coverage it had received in certain newspapers, and to prepare a response. They also provided an opportunity to discuss some of the surprising results in territories considered to be advantaged where the proportion of vulnerable children was high. During these discussions, a number of organizing committees asked the researchers to provide additional analyses for their HSSC, for children from immigrant backgrounds for example, or to map the schools that had or had not participated in the survey to provide them with a better understanding of unexpected results.
3.1.6. The Local Summits—2008–2009
The 12 local summits were held over a period of 10 months, and brought together approximately 100 people each. The events took various forms depending on the territory. The researchers presented the survey data as well as the issues they had identified. Some territories invited additional speakers while others presented complementary information such as the territory’s socio-demographic profile and resources, or held forums with parents on preparing children for school. All offered a form of collective reflexivity through discussion workshops. There was greater mobilization in certain territories either due to their possessing more highly-developed collaborative practices, or because school readiness had been a local concern for several years, or because the results of the survey were so striking they gave rise to a sense of urgency. However, local summits in all territories attracted a diverse range of actors, including parents. RIC actors also took part, several in more than one territory, thereby ensuring local-regional alignment.
It goes without saying that ownership of the results took different forms in each territory, but the picture presented generally corresponded to actors’ observations: (1) the data presented by neighbourhood revealed previously unsuspected or little mentioned zones of poverty and school readiness vulnerability; (2) the data presented in terms of the numbers of vulnerable children rather than simple percentages brought to light new priority intervention areas; and (3) the data on available public resources showed that some territories were particularly underequipped given their needs. This was true for example of reduced-contribution childcare: in two out of three HSSC territories, the percentage of available spaces was under 50%. Furthermore, although the Education Act of 1997 stipulates that all children from underprivileged backgrounds must have the possibility of attending kindergarten beginning at age four, 12 of the 60 schools serving the most disadvantaged areas in Montreal did not offer kindergarten for four-year-olds despite being located in areas where the proportion of at-risk children was higher than the Montreal average.
The numerous concerns raised by the picture presented were coloured by the socio-demographic characteristics of the territory, its history of mobilization, the intersectoral representativeness of the actors involved, and the range of services provided to families. However, in several territories, the survey re-opened the old divisive debate between schools and daycares as to where four-year-olds belong2
. It also shone a light on the lack of formal links between early childhood resources and schools and the impact of this situation on children’s transition to school. Bill 7, not yet adopted into law at the time of the summits, also raised a host of fears in all the territories. Several actors denounced the social public–philanthropic partnership that would touch on areas of public policy. Others questioned the political will to target children living in poverty while still others feared their voices would not be heard and that new orientations would upset the dynamics of local consultation and the configuration of services. Finally, the results raised parental doubts about the measures to be taken and concerns about the risk of stigmatizing certain children. Some feared decision-makers were moving towards early schooling by making kindergarten mandatory as of age four.
3.1.7. Preparation and Holding of the Montreal Summit—Spring 2009
The Montreal Summit was a regional event that brought the process to an end after 10 months of on-going local mobilization. Aware that local actors would want to have a voice at the summit, the RIC made the rounds beforehand to receive approval for its proposed program, and asked each of the 12 HSSC to write out three possible avenues for improving services. However, the RIC’s program also offered the additional regional benefit of exploring issues affecting all territories, inspired by the working groups generated by the theme days.
The Montreal Summit of May 2009 brought together a variety of actors, of which the most numerous were the HSSCs, followed by community organizations and schools. The advantage of a regional forum was reflected in the question put to participants, i.e., what regional and provincial mechanisms should be used to ensure a better fit between the needs of Montreal families and available services given the challenges posed by the diversity and mobility of Montreal families as well as the difficulty of reaching so-called “isolated” families. For each aspect of the question, a video produced with parents was presented, followed by a panel comprised of parents and early childhood professionals.
Local actors had high expectations for the RIC at the regional summit. They had mobilized to hold the local summits and proposed possible solutions, and they expected organizers to produce a summary of local demands and make commitments in line with the demands. The regional summit proved unsatisfactory on this level. No such summary was produced and no investment was announced in situ in response to their concerns. Local actors saw no sign of the RIC’s promised regional advantage, and had an impression of déjà-vu.
The regional summit concluded with a joint declaration by the RIC members in which they made a commitment to continue their efforts in favour of child development. In the aftermath of the summits, local actors said they were relieved no new program had been announced for top-down implementation. Otherwise, they said, what good would all their efforts have been if the outcome had been decided ahead of time?
Finally, the DPH produced a summary of all the written submissions produced during the process at both local and regional levels [33
]. The analysis linked issues and solutions related to school readiness. Its first priority was to stress the necessity of taking action on family living conditions and the need to respect the fact that some families would first want to obtain support to meet their basic needs. It supported the adoption of non-blaming approaches with parents geared towards the creation of opportunities for families to come together rather than screening. Finally, it strongly emphasized the urgency of establishing formal links between early childhood resources and schools. It deplored the fact that most teachers had little knowledge of the preschool trajectories of the children they welcome into kindergarten. Parents are under a great deal of social pressure to ensure their children are “ready” when they start school, without really knowing what that means. The analysis served to guide the RIC in the development of its action plan.
3.2. The Post-Summit Collective Decision-Making Process: Developing a Solution Based on Early Childhood Services in the Community
The events that laid the foundation for the collective decision-making process regarding the development of solutions occurred simultaneously at regional and local levels following the regional summit of May 2009. The events involving the actor network will be examined first, followed by those concerned with solution implementation.
3.2.1. Regional and Local Actor Networks in the Post-Summit Period
In the two years following the regional summit, the 14 members of the RIC focused on giving the committee a clear identity, defining its mandate, and developing a strategic plan. They set up a coordination committee to ensure shared leadership among members and combat fears that had been present since the beginning of the process that the DPH would exercise too much influence over decisions. The RIC made changes to its composition to consolidate its partnership with other regional collaborative bodies, especially ones focusing on student retention and academic success. However, it was also faced with the withdrawal of one community actor that cited the actor’s position against social public-private partnerships and its uneasiness with the fact that one of the RIC’s main financial contributors was the product of such a partnership.
The post-summit period was marked by flagging collaboration between local and regional levels, as a result of regional actors’ lack of support for local communities. Due to the importance of taking local concerns into account in establishing its guidelines, the RIC polled the 300 regional summit participants in the spring of 2010 regarding the primary courses of strategic action it should adopt. Following this sounding-out process, in June 2011 the RIC unveiled its strategic plan for 2010–2015 permitting regional actors to reconnect with local counterparts. In 2011 and 2012, the RIC conducted two projects to encourage renewed contact. The Constellation project was aimed at pooling and sharing experience and knowledge regarding difficult-to-reach families, while the objective of the Basic Services Basket project was to identify what parents and both local and regional actors would like to receive in terms of resources and basic services throughout the entire Montreal area. It addressed the problem of the unequal distribution of services among Montreal territories mentioned at the summits, as well as the issue of family mobility.
However, local actors’ expectations of the regional level were high and remained unmet. On the one hand, they wanted the RIC to exercise political influence in situations where local entities were powerless. For example, they expected the RIC to appeal to public decision-makers to curb the proliferation of non-government-subsidized private daycares due to the absence of regulations governing such daycares and the lack of training of the educators who worked in them. Local actors also expected their regional counterparts in the RIC to promote actions designed to improve family living conditions. However, the position adopted by the RIC with regard to exercising political influence ensured it would never place its members in a difficult position, as they also had to answer to ministries responsible for public policies and programs. The regional actors concluded that they did not have the means to initiate action on these questions and agreed instead to join in lobbying efforts by other bodies. On the other hand, local actors requested that the regional level strive to ensure greater harmonization of early childhood funding. Such an expectation would undoubtedly be difficult to meet because any solution would signify a loss of autonomy for donors in terms of program definition and accountability. The arrival on the scene of actors issuing from public-philanthropic partnerships, with still more accounting mechanisms, did nothing to simplify the situation.
After the 2009 summits, local actors initially continued their work in the local committees set-up to organize the summits. After approximately a year, discussions were held in all territories, marking the dissolution of these committees whose work was then taken up by other local collaborative bodies in which the actors continued to work towards the priorities adopted. At the end of data collection in 2011, traces of the Summit Initiative were visible in all HSSC local action plans which served as the basis for continuation of community mobilization on this issue. The summits’ influence was also apparent in certain local action plans that had previously focused on 6- to 12-year-olds but now incorporated activities targeting children ages 0 to five years. This was true for school boards, boroughs, and philanthropic partners.
These commitments signify the extension of the early childhood actor network, notably through connections with school boards, ardently desired by actors for many years, formalizing schools’ desire to become involved. Henceforth, school principals had the approval of their regional and provincial counterparts to engage fully in early childhood discussions. The municipality, which the RIC had invited to participate from the very beginning, improved its relations with the community by developing connections with organizations. Due to their new outreach mandate, libraries were able to take an active role in consultations and participate in numerous intersectoral projects.
3.2.2. Survey and Summit Initiative Outcomes for Service Organization
Decision-making is primarily sectoral at government and regional levels. Actors identified a number of advances in which the contributions made by the survey and the Summit Initiative were apparent. The Government of Quebec’s creation of the Fund for Early Childhood Development as part of a public-philanthropic partnership is unquestionably an important outcome. It allows for local funding of joint action and support for regional and interregional bodies that conduct knowledge- and practice-sharing activities, such as the RIC’s Constellation and Basic Services Basket projects. In 2009, the Education Ministry launched its strategies for student academic success, which included pre-school actions involving the early childhood network. It used survey results, among other things, to establish selection criteria for territories targeted by its early literacy program. Finally, in 2010, it joined its counterparts in the health and family sectors to coproduce a guide to provide support for children’s transition to school. On a regional level, the health, childcare, municipal and philanthropic sectors introduced additional resources, using survey data to better target the territories in which they should be implemented.
The process was also seen to have significant local outcomes, reflecting the DPH’s desire, as stated at the opening of the summits, to take its cue from what works locally and further refine its interventions. Joint planning by local collaborative bodies was the principal modus operandi
for collective decision-making to guide and coordinate the actions of public, public-philanthropic, and community actors. As in the problematization phase, collective reflection activities played an important role in the decision-making process during planning. Less documentation is available on the implementation or continuation of new services due to the study’s short duration. Some of the outcomes took the form of initiatives on child language, motor and social development. Others were more general in nature, such as the creation of additional daycare spaces, parent-child workshops, a drop-in daycare, support for new arrivals, access to a reduced rate for city-run activities, and the establishment of a family outreach centre or social paediatric services. Of these, transition-to-school and literacy activities will be examined more closely as they were implemented in all territories. The full range of outcomes can be found in two general audience publications produced for the actors [13
Transition-to-school actions were the result of the redefinition of preschool (0 to 5 years) guidelines adopted by the Ministry of Education. These actions include the use of school-transition tools. The aim of these tools was to provide a descriptive portrait of the child’s overall development to foster discussion between community or childcare organizations and schools. They were also designed to ensure intervention continuity between networks. The tool is completed by the child’s educator in the spring and given to the parents who are responsible for transmitting it to the school. To meet the needs of children not in childcare, school boards and community organizations offer parent-child workshops and educational kindergarten-preparation day camps. The camps have undergone considerable growth since 2008. In addition to the participation of the school and childcare communities, the implementation of new activities involves actors from community, health and municipal organizations.
The newly implemented early literacy programs are the product of a Ministry of Education emergent literacy program and the clear commitment of libraries to off-site programming. Librarians are present in the field and lead activities in a variety of different contexts, such as city parks and social housing complexes. Now books can be borrowed not only at libraries; but in community organizations, daycares, and parks as well, not to mention in the street through bookmobiles. The activities financed by the Ministry’s early literacy program focus on integrating reading into children’s and family activities. An example of such an activity might be setting up a reading corner in a HSSC waiting room. Books are also presented as gifts at immunization sessions and perinatal home visits.
The post-summit collective decision making process was devoted to developing local solutions specifically adapted to community needs. In a characteristic chain of events, the consolidation of the regional and local action networks, the provision of additional resources by government and regional sectoral decision-makers, and the ability of these networks to carry out on-going planning of the priorities established during the summit phase, would appear to have provided as the combined ingredients for the collective decisions.