On March 22nd 2011, 15 brave souls ventured out on very icy highways to come together to explore issues, challenges and opportunities for rural families with young children living within the Saskatoon Health Region. These folks were taking part in the Rural Early Year’s Coalition Advisory Gathering hosted in Wakaw.
The Rural Early Year’s Coalition (REYC) is a working group of partners striving to improve the lives of families and children in the rural Saskatoon Health Region. We come together on a regular basis to touch base on what the current issues are for families with young children living in rural areas and to strategize on how we can work together to affect positive change. Twice a year we host Community Advisory Gatherings that are opened to any and all interested folks.
Through these Advisory Gatherings four priority areas have emerged:
1) Service Delivery 2) Early Learning Childcare 3) Healthy Eating Active Living 4) Poverty Busters
Over the past year or so we have focused quite a bit of attention on Service Delivery, conducting focus groups with parents and service providers. It was our goal at this gathering in Wakaw to look and reflect on what, if anything, has changed in Service Delivery and brainstorm some ideas for moving forward.
At the Wakaw gathering we heard: -how parents are having challenges finding childcare in their home communities, -that housing options are limited, -staff recruitment is a challenge, -there is an increased need for rental housing, -Co-op stores are closing in many communities impacting food security. -Many vulnerable families are being pushed out of the city because of high housing costs, only to find themselves quite isolated in rural areas because of lack of transportation costs.
On a positive note we have heard: -Pre-K programs are becoming more welcome in rural communities, and -there may be some ways to improve food security in rural areas by encouraging local initiatives like collective kitchens and small food buying co-ops.
Other ideas included: · blended staff positions · different rules for rural staffing ratios · bringing together health teams for a symposium/conference · travelling clinics · working towards more user-friendly services as apposed to service provider-friendly · fostering parents getting together to determine their needs and interests, then basing programs on that input · mobilizing funds for communities to hire staff who can link parents to services and supports, doing family assessments and facilitating relationships between families to build support.
Many more ideas were generated during our time together, and despite the challenge of the icy highways, it seems most folks left feeling inspired and rejuvenated to continue the work they are doing in their communities.
What happens now? It is hoped that folks will take the ideas and energy generated back to their communities and organizations and that they work toward making what changes can be made.
The role of REYC now is to keep these ideas alive for further conversation and to look for ways to promote them to those who develop programs and policies. For more information about REYC or to get involved contact Sydney Bell, KidsFirst Saskatoon Community Developer Sydney.firstname.lastname@example.org or 655-5383