Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Mr. Speaker, one of the most important areas we can invest in is early childhood development, and the Government of the Northwest Territories has made a commitment in its mandate to do this by implementing its Right from the Start Framework. Ages zero to five are the most critical time in a child’s development, and the work that the Departments of Health and Social Services and Education, Culture and Employment have been doing in partnership have been helping all of the children in the Northwest Territories.
Over the past year, we have made some significant improvements to the programs and services we offer and support in early childhood development.
Mr. Speaker, strengthening licensed early childhood programs through the improvement of resource materials and through increased training for early childhood workers is one of our specific mandate commitments related to Right from the Start.
Mr. Speaker, many of our children have the benefit of attending these early learning programs, and we recognize there are challenges in delivering programs in different communities. To account for these differences, we have reconfigured our model so operators can focus on developing quality programs for the children in their care rather than focusing on administrative paperwork. To ensure children with special needs have appropriate support, we have streamlined the Healthy Children Initiative into the Early Childhood Intervention Program. These program changes will be phased in over five years and will help our licensed early childhood programs better plan and meet the scope of the children’s needs.
Since 2015, the Early Childhood Staff Grant Program has provided a wage top-up to early childhood workers in licensed daycare facilities to upgrade their skills and education. Over the 2015-16 fiscal year, Education, Culture and Employment provided grants to approximately 240 full- and part-time early childhood workers.
As well, in 2016-17, we awarded five $1,000 scholarships to 13 post-secondary students enrolled in full-time early childhood development diploma or degree programs.
We also continue to work with our early childhood operators across the North, through symposiums, video conferencing, and ongoing discussions. They are often the first caregivers outside the child’s family, and we need to ensure they are supported.
Another one of our mandate commitments, Mr. Speaker, was to revise the funding support model for licensed early childhood programs. I am pleased to advise Members that Education, Culture and Employment has fulfilled this commitment.
A daily subsidy for each child attending programs will continue to be provided to operators. The previous Early Childhood Program Operating Subsidy had 10 zones. We have reduced this to two zones; Zone A for all southern communities with road access, and Zone B for communities in the Sahtu and Beaufort Delta and those communities without road access.
In light of full territorial implementation of junior kindergarten beginning in the 2017-18 school year, we have significantly increased the infant rate for operators across the territory. Operators in a Zone A community like Yellowknife can now expect to get $20 more, while operators in a Zone B community like Aklavik will get over $26 more.
In response to our mandate commitment to work with stakeholders and communities to explore options for free play-based care for four-year-olds, the government will be rolling out junior kindergarten to all NWT communities in the next school year, up from the 20 communities where it is currently available.
During both the review of junior kindergarten and subsequent engagements, we talked extensively with invested stakeholders across the NWT, including Aboriginal governments, ECE Service Centre regional superintendents, early childhood consultants, Aboriginal Head Start staff, the Northwest Territories Teachers’ Association, Superintendents of Education, parents, teachers, and school principals and have received generally positive feedback on our approach and content.
We accepted all of the recommendations of the review and have enacted a revised funding model, enhanced the curriculum and teacher guide, increased training for teachers, developed a detailed communications plan, and engaged across the North to garner feedback for territorial implementation.
For five years now, we have been using the Early Development Instrument, which provides a snapshot of children’s school readiness at age five. The Early Development Instrument measures a child’s developmental health when they enter the school system. The preliminary Early Development Instrument results, after the initial rollout of junior kindergarten, is showing improvement among our five year olds. The promise of junior kindergarten as a way of ensuring our children are ready when they enter the formal school system at five seems to hold true. The results are preliminary, but very encouraging.
Mr. Speaker, healthy early childhood development is a priority for this Legislative Assembly. I believe it is also a priority for all of the communities and families across the North, and we are working to ensure we have the most responsive programs, services, and opportunities available for families and children, right from the start. Mahsi cho, Mr. Speaker.