Joanne Schroeder stands in front of the screen at the historic site where she spoke about research results for the area on early childhood development.

Not first, but not last

Fort St. James children behind but not at the bottom of the pile.

UBC researcher Joanne Schroeder presented some of the findings on children in the Fort St. James area on April 16.

Schroeder spoke at the Fort St. James National Historic Site to a room of nearly 40 people about the results of tests on children entering kindergarten across B.C.

Many aspects of brain development peak at or around the age of three years old, explained Schroeder, so this research can be used to look at differences across the population to see where inequalities exist, what might be determining them and what can be done to address inequalities in early development.

The test, called the Early Development Instrument (EDI), was developed in the nineties, the test is used across Canada and internationally to measure vulnerabilities in young children, which means they are at “increased risk of difficulties in the school years and beyond” according to the UBC Human Early Learning Partnership website (HELP).

The test looks at five areas which are considered to be good predictors of adult health, education and social outcomes, and is not used to look at individual child or teacher performance.

While the provincial average is for 30 per cent of those tested to show vulnerabilities in one or more area, the School District 91 average is 33 per cent, only a little above the provincial average, however, Fort St. James in particular has the highest rate of children with vulnerabilities in the district at 46 per cent. Vanderhoof, alternatively, has the lowest rate with 26 per cent but other parts of the province, including the Prince George School District, have even higher rates of vulnerabilities than Fort St. James.

However, Schroeder did say there are some good signs in the data.

The latest three years of data has seen a drop in vulnerabilities in the Fort area from 49 per cent to the 46 per cent, and one key area of improvement she called a “huge, statistically significant” decrease in vulnerabilities is in the area of language and cognitive development. In this area, there has been a drop from 35 per cent of those tested being vulnerable, to now just 21 per cent in the latest published results being vulnerable.

Emotional maturity was one area she said needs more work, which has actually seen an increase in vulnerability amongst those tested, from 20 per cent to 26 per cent in Fort St. James.

Schroeder said the research can now be used to plan programs and to encourage people to make the most of the services which exist.

While the research does not point fingers at particular causes of vulnerabilities among young children, Schroeder did spend some time asking the audience what causes might be contributing to these issues.

Everything from electronics and “screen time” to changes in family and community dynamics were raised as contributing factors.

Schroeder said while it is sometimes assumed the children displaying vulnerabilities are from poor backgrounds, she said this is actually not the case and most are from the middle-class.

“The responsibility for turning around the trend in vulnerability is with all of us,” she said.

Related story:

Getting a strong start on early learning