Raising the Villages provides town with alarming numbers

    PORT HAWKESBURY: Town councillors were shocked at some of the child poverty statistics they reviewed.

    During the regular monthly meeting of Port Hawkesbury Town Council on April 5, Jim Mustard made a presentation on behalf of Raising the Villages.

    After the One Nova Scotia Coalition identified early years intervention as its top priority in 2016, Mustard said the group was formed in 2021 after community consultations called for the formation of a collective impact co-operative.

    Mustard said the co-operative is comprised of Strait Regional Centre for Education staff, local physicians, early childhood educators, First Nations, the Cape Breton Partnership, Nova Scotia Public Health, local municipalities, as well as MLAs and MPs, among others.

    The goals of Raising the Villages are: to raise awareness and understanding of why the early years is the number 1 upstream investment for life-long health, learning, and relationships; help develop intergenerational welcoming community space pilot projects that start with the youngest citizens; to foster learning, understanding, and honouring, of the living history of the Mi’kmaq, through gatherings around the shared history and heritage in Cape Breton; to provide the networking, connecting, communicating, and advocacy for regional services, programs, and policies that provide universal access and integration from the pre-natal period onwards; to share and learn from what is happening across the region, province, and beyond; and to utilize data to strengthen community-based decision making, advocacy, and inform supportive upstream policy direction.

    Raising the Villages is trying to remove the silos overseeing early childhood development to have governments, people, and groups working together, because as Mustard noted, the evidence has been clear for the past 20 years that the early years sets the course for life trajectories.

    Without this intervention, Mustard said this translates into higher costs to treat addiction, mental health and developmental issues down the road.

    Mustard also told council that in western Cape Breton, 30 per cent of children are considered vulnerable when entering school, and the child poverty rates in Cape Breton are 26 per cent, with the number in We’koqma’q First Nation at 44 per cent. He said the numbers came from the United Way, and Statistics Canada.

    After the meeting, CAO Terry Doyle called the numbers “staggering.”

    Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton cautioned that the numbers were gathered pre-pandemic and could now be “magnified.”

    “Vulnerability is more than a poverty-related statistic; it would more likely be developmental delays, and other challenges, with kids entering the school system. Likely all the measures that would be mitigated through early childhood intervention,” she explained.

    Although there is no formal request, Mustard said he appeared before council to prepare the body for a funding request to help expand their network, provide an annual infographic, hold local gatherings, support pilot sites, and host spring workshops.

    Chisholm-Beaton likes the idea of a welcome centre or hub where everyone can meet and interact.

    “I really love the concept; I think it’s something our community needs,” she said.

    The mayor recalled that a family expo held a few years ago – hosted by the town, with help from Raising the Villages, public health and early childhood intervention – was a big success.

    “It broke down all of those silos, and it provided a one-stop shop for families. As they were going through the Bear Head Room, they were able to pick up pamphlets, or ask questions, and really be able to understand all that’s available to support everyone in the Strait area, not just the Town of Port Hawkesbury,” she recalled. “Most of the 500 people that ended up flowing through the room that day learned something or were connected in some way.”

    The mayor asked what municipal funding scenarios will look like, based on the interest from the federal and provincial levels of government.

    Mustard responded that, in addition to funding, municipalities can provide connection and communication from communities, and Raising the Villages hopes the province will be a partner. He said federal government, agencies, and entities also have roles to play.

    The mayor added that welcome events can be helpful in identifying the needs of residents.

    “Council is certainly supportive, but at the end of the day, we still have to learn more, understand what other funding partners could be coming to the table, and understand what those next steps are,” Chisholm-Beaton added. “There could be some future small scale events that can give us a little bit of direction in terms of what does our community need currently, as a result of the global pandemic? What does support look like now?”