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Helping Surrey, BC Strengthen Early Childhood Development

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Celebrating the Provincial Early Years Centre Launch at Kensington Prairie Community Centre

Celebrating the Provincial Early Years Centre Launch at Kensington Prairie Community Centre

In 2012, Early Childhood Development work in Surrey, British Columbia had cross-sectorial collaborative leadership established, a range of programs and services offered, a growing amount of resources invested, and a range of data and plans, yet 32 percent of Surrey’s kindergarten-aged children were assessed as developmentally vulnerable.

This is only one of the many reasons why the City of Surrey prioritized Early Childhood Development as the focus for IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge in 2012. Combining a fresh perspective with our resources, we believed we would be able to shine new light on a critical population health issue in one of Canada’s fastest growing cities.

IBM’s team of six experts conducted sixty interviews over a three-week period in which literature was reviewed and a field study was conducted. The resulting recommendations focused on collaborative leadership and governance, business intelligence tools, data-driven investments, and leveraged resources. In essence, the recommendations laid out a path that establishes Surrey as a prime prospect for the establishment of a Centre of Excellence in Early Childhood Development.

In 2012, while the IBM research and reporting were underway, other key initiatives were happening in Surrey – initiatives that focused on collaborative leadership, leveraging of resources, shared measurement, and the development of business intelligence tools. A natural step was to see the alignment and integration of the IBM recommendations and these emerging Early Childhood Development opportunities, particularly with the local United Way’s Avenues of Change initiative. Surrey’s Guildford West neighborhood was selected from hundreds of neighborhoods in the Metro Vancouver area to be a part of this innovative investment. It is a large, multi-year philanthropic investment and a place-based approach to understanding and addressing the vulnerability of young children.

IBM recommendations were integrated into the business plans for the Avenues of Change: Guildford West initiative as a means of addressing the single biggest challenge facing their implementation: size and scope.

The City of Surrey is a large urban centre, and it is growing at an astounding pace. Integrating the recommendations around data management within the Guilford West neighbourhood provides opportunity to test and refine the Avenues of Change improvement strategies and application of best practices. These key learnings can then be broadened to other neighbourhoods of Surrey.

Working in partnership with the United Way of the Lower Mainland, other public partners and service agencies, the project hired its Director position in August, 2015. The most recent work this past year has focused on finalizing roles of lead service agencies that will champion the implementation and delivery of the strategies. These include a project to increase support and awareness for mental health services, an Early Years health promotion program that includes peer ambassadors and a leadership development component, an asset mapping initiative to be piloted in September 2015, and a shared project to develop a dashboard that will support ongoing measurement and investment.

Another key success to date has been the opening of two Provincial Early Years Centres in Surrey. These centres represent a range of innovative approaches that offer one-stop, convenient access to information, services and referrals for families with young children. The centres are a great example of what is possible when communities work together to improve outcomes for families.

Though we are well on our way, we still have a long journey ahead. The work is complex, and involves many systems and many layers. It is slow. It is challenging. But it is necessary for change.

Our children deserve nothing less than our success. As our city motto proclaims, “the future lives here” – both theirs and ours.

The Hon. Linda M. Hepner is Mayor of the City of Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.

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Mayor Stephen Mandel: Building a Smarter Edmonton

Building a Smarter Planet by Building Community

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