Guest Author: Susan Lynch, U of A Project Director – How are our young children doing? Too many are being left behind. As a part of the panel at the RVS Research Conference, I was pleased to do a short presentation on the Early Child Development Mapping Project (ECMap) which illustrated the use of the Early Development Instrument (EDI) to capture a picture the developmental progress of preschool children across Alberta. ECMap began in 2009 and partnered with school authorities to gather EDI information on over 85,000 kindergarten children during the period from 2009 to 2013. The EDI provided baseline data for non-special needs children in five areas of development: Physical health and wellbeing, social competence, emotional maturity, language/thinking skills, and communication/general knowledge.
Though the EDI questionnaire is completed for individual children, the data is aggregated for groups of children – it is a population measure not an individual assessment. In the Alberta study, the EDI revealed some startling findings about groups of children throughout the province:
- The baseline data indicates that less than 50% of young children are developing appropriately in all five areas of development when they reach kindergarten. A large portion, approaching one third of Alberta children, are experiencing great difficulties (below the 10th percentile) when compared to the Canadian Norm for vulnerability. These statistics are for typical children and do not include children with severe disabilities. Alberta children could and should be doing much better.
- Every community in Alberta has a percentage of children experiencing great difficulty on one or more of the areas of development. The percentages range from a low of 12% to a high of 53%, the Canadian Norm being 25.4%. Sixty-six communities in Alberta are doing less well than the Canadian Norm. No single geographic characteristic (density, urban/rural, north/south) differentiated the EDI results.
- Five areas of child development were analyzed. Each area of development has a slightly different pattern of reported child outcomes. The area which seems to have the greatest challenge for children in Alberta is that of Communication and General Knowledge. However, the five areas of development are inter-related and there is a tendency for difficulties appearing in one area of development to be indicative of difficulties in other areas as well.
- The correlation between socioeconomic status and childhood outcomes is .58. The more positive the socioeconomic status of a community the more likely the early childhood outcomes will be positive. Although a higher percentage of children in low socioeconomic communities are experiencing great difficulty compared to higher SES communities, the largest number of children who are struggling is to be found in the middle income/class communities because of their large numbers of children.
- Alberta communities vary widely from one another in their overall socioeconomic levels and in the patterns of economic, social and cultural factors. The economic stability factor stands out as the most important across the province as a whole, but the social mobility and cultural similarity factors, when examined at the community level, are more prominent influences on the EDI for some communities.
Further information was gathered with the help of community coalitions in each of the 100 communities. Community resources, early childhood data, and socioeconomic status data was mapped and reported in community profiles for all communities. The ECMap website (www.ecmap.ca) contains all the community reports, interactive maps and results reports for the project. The final report has been submitted to Alberta Education and the full LiveAtlas will be posted on the website shortly.