November 19, 2021

Open letter - Prevent additional vulnerabilities among English-speaking children

It’s time to dispel a myth: Contrary to widespread belief, English-speaking children and families in Quebec are not amongst the most privileged, especially when it comes to ensuring optimal child development. A study conducted by the Institut de la Statistique du Québec (ISQ) illustrates that mother tongue English-speaking children in Quebec are scoring below mother tongue French-speaking children in five core developmental domains,[1] and a significantly higher proportion of these children are vulnerable in a least one of these domains. Census information also highlights that 15.3% of English-speaking children between 0 and 5 years of age, in Quebec, are living below the low-income cut-off.

Research-based evidence also demonstrates the need to increase access to early learning and childcare programs and services for English-speaking children and their families in Quebec. A recent provincial study on early childhood services in the English language illustrated that childcare offered in English was important to a majority of respondents. Their need for English services increases when parents are unilingual, have a lower education attainment or are living in a low-income situation. Many respondents highlighted barriers to their participation in French-speaking childcare services and the lack of daycare options available in English.

Parents’ top concerns in accessing services offered by French-speaking service providers are that their children won’t experience a welcoming environment or will be misunderstood, or that they as parents will misunderstand important information provided. Inability to find daycare spots for English-speaking children is also affecting some parents' ability to work, with women bearing the largest impact. Many parents surveyed also indicated increased service needs resulting from the pandemic and the importance of offering more programming for fathers.

These results highlight the health prevention need to improve access to early childhood services for the English-speaking population of Quebec. Promising strategies include fostering collaboration between English speakers and early childhood service providers and supporting the integration of their children and families’ unique needs into service planning, development and delivery. Testing, piloting and evaluating innovative models and approaches will help ensure that minority English-speaking children and families benefit from a full range of services to support their well-being.

The 6th edition of the Early Childhood Week, from November 15 to 21, is an opportunity for all stakeholders to stop for a moment, look more closely at the youngest members of our community and think what we can do to help each of them get the best start in life. On this occasion, we aim to send a positive message to English-speaking families that Quebec early learning and childcare actors are engaging to ensure that children do not suffer from additional vulnerabilities because of their language.

Already, daycare and family stakeholders such as the Association québécoise des centres de la petite enfance, l’Association des haltes-garderies communautaires du Québec and the Fédération québécoise des organismes communautaires Famille have expressed their willingness to improve services for better engagement of minority English-speaking children and their families.

However, this is just the beginning and we need everyone to partake. We invite concerned citizens to write to their MNA and let them know that it is time to act to improve access to early childhood services for English-speaking children. Citizens can also advocate to their early childhood service providers in their community to ask them to offer services adapted to English-speaking children’s needs.   Together, our priority is to orient and sensitize educators to the unique challenges facing English-speaking children and support them in better understanding, welcoming and receiving this clientele.

Working together, we can ensure that cultural and linguistic diversity become an asset on which all English-speaking children and families can build a better future.

By Jennifer Johnson, Executive Director, Community Health and Social Services Network, and Elise Bonneville, Director, Collectif petite enfance

 

[1] Institut de la Statistique du Québec, 2019. Vulnerable English-speaking children: 2017 Quebec Survey of Child Development in Kindergarten data analysis