7. Benefits of early childhood program integration

While research into integrating children’s programming has focused largely on the process, positive gains have also been documented for children, families and staff. Evaluations of Sure Start in the UK, Communities for Children in Australia and Toronto First Duty report that children in neighbourhoods with integrated children’s services are more socially competent compared with children living in similar areas without integrated services. More families were informed about services and found them more accessible.34 They attended programs more often and participated in a broader range of activities. There was a reduction in the number of agencies families had to approach and fewer families fell through the cracks. In addition, parents reported greater satisfaction with services, less family stress, reduced social isolation, more confidence in their parenting and improved communication with staff.

Integrated models challenge staff to abandon professional rigidity and develop a shared understanding and language with respect to early childhood practice. When supported by effective leadership, there is more collaboration and staff members enjoy expanded professional development and more opportunities for peer learning.

Program quality is another benefit of integration. Integrated models seem to push back against developmentally inappropriate curriculum and approaches, and promote a more progressive vision of what early childhood programming should be: building engaged, active learning; less modularization; whole child development, including supports to build self-regulation; enhanced parent capacity to partner with educators to support their children’s development; and expanded community and school links. The Toronto First Duty initiative found that quality ratings reflected the degree of integration, with programs receiving a higher quality rating when integration ratings were also high.

For schools and community service providers, integration can be difficult, involving real change to culture and methodologies and requiring new skills and ways of working. Change requires leadership at all levels. Provincial and local administrators must ensure that the time and needed resources are made available to develop local expertise.

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