House of Commons report: Best practices in settlement services

In March, 2010, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration released their report “Best Practices in Settlement Services“. It includes six recommendations:

Recommendation 1: The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada develop a proposal for an interactive website on best practices in settlement services. The aim of the proposal should be to have an operational website in fiscal year 2011-2012.

Recommendation 2: The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada, through Citizenship and Immigration Canada, judge joint proposals for settlement funding favourably and indicate this clearly on the application form.

Recommendation 3: The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada continue to support and expand Local Immigration Partnerships in Ontario and explore the potential of local immigration partnership pilot projects in other interested provinces.

Recommendation 4: The Committee recommends that, subject to provincial jurisdiction, Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s Modernized Approach to Settlement Programming should be flexible such that business and self-employment support programs can be included in the theme of “labour market participation;” and mental health and family counselling can be included in the theme of “support services”.

Recommendation 5: The Committee recommends that the Government of Canada permit greater flexibility in determining the length of time individuals are eligible for particular settlement services.

Recommendation 6: The Committee recommends, subject to provincial jurisdiction, that the Government of Canada include trauma counselling and school support as eligible activities under the Resettlement Assistance Program.

Children were mentioned a few times in the report.

One of the witnesses to the committee spoke about the value of child-minding services being available alongside the Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada (LINC) program. While safe and adequate ‘care’ for children of LINC participants is important, the government of Canada is missing an opportunity to support newcomer children in their own settlement and integration process. Beyond the current child-minding and ostensibly custodial care service, a comprehensive early learning and child care program that meets the specific settlement and integration needs of newcomer children – with consideration to the child’s age, developmental level and an understanding of the child’s migration journey – would well serve Canada and Canada’s youngest citizens-to-be.

Indeed, other witnesses spoke of the success of programs for school-age children. In BC. Langley Community Services Society provides “intensive early childhood development support as well as orientation and assistance in settlement”. I applaud this program, but the government of Canada is missing the optimal window for learning if it only funds such programs for children of school-age. We know that the early years (birth to age six) set the foundation for the child’s lifelong health, behaviour and learning.

Under Citizenship and Immigration Canada’s new Modernization Approach, funding is available in six areas: 1.Information and orientation, 2. Language and skills development, 3. Labour market participation, 4. Community connections, 5. Needs assessments and referrals, and 6. Support services.

Currently, child-minding lands in the “support services” theme, but I’d argue that quality early learning and child care, with particular attention to the settlement and integration needs of even the youngest of newcomer children fits in all of the six areas and warrants more investment from the federal government.

1. Information and orientation.  Children and parents alike need information and orientation to their new community. Even the youngest child benefits from a deliberate orientation to Canadian customs, expectations and values. The trick is to deliver such programming in developmentally appropriate ways. Luckily, Canada has trained Early Childhood Educators who can (and do) provide this. Parents require information and orientation about the same things, but at a higher level. In order to support their child’s growth and development and learning, they also need to learn about the range of services and supports available for young children in their community.

2. Language and skills development. An obvious area for both children and adults with the important  stipulation that the child’s home language(s) be supported and promoted while learning English and/or French.

3. Labour market participation. If the federal government, through Citizenship and Immigration Canada, is serious about supporting the labour market participation of newcomers, they must see the value in child care. Not the custodial, child-minding model, but a high quality early learning model that will support newcomer children’s entry to and success in the formal school system.

4. Community connections. An extension of the information and orientation theme, we know that social support is a health determinant indicator. Newcomer children and parents need welcoming communities. It’s an important aspect of integration.

5. Needs assessments and referrals. One of the best places to get accurate, responsive referrals is within a welcoming community that knows the family. Pulling together all of the above areas, it seems reasonable to conclude that the best referrals and clearest needs assessments would come out of a collaborative approach to settlement – and a comprehensive one that acknowledges the importance of serving children, parents, the entire newcomer family.

The committee has requested that the government table a response. When they do, I hope they add and implement a seventh recommendation: that the Government of Canada address the specific integration, settlement and language needs of newcomer children and strive to provide funding across all themes. That would be thoroughly modern.

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