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Growing Up in a New Land


I Overview
II Background
III Key points
IV Practical applications
V Dissemination
VI Upcoming Events

--submitted by Louise Choquette, Bilingual Health Promotion Consultant, Best Start Resource Centre

I Overview

The Best Start Resource Centre recently published a manual for service providers titled Growing Up in a New Land – Strategies for Working with Newcomer Families. This article provides an overview of the purpose, development process, content and dissemination methods used to reach service providers. The manual can be downloaded or ordered from

II Background

In Ontario, 36% of births are to women who have immigrated to Canada. Service providers who work with children wanted a resource and training to help them understand the needs of the newcomer and to offer strategies to meet these needs. In response, the Best Start Resource Centre developed a guide to help service providers working with newcomer families who have children aged zero to six. This resource is designed for public health nurses, home visitors, parent-child drop-in facilitators, childcare staff, social workers, primary health care providers and kindergarten teachers.

This manual is a logical follow-up to the manual Giving Birth in a New Land – Strategies for Service Providers Working with Newcomers published in 2009, which focused on the needs of newcomer women who are pregnant [and was a feature article in the March 20, 2009, edition of OHPE available at].

An advisory committee was formed to oversee the development of the manual and key informants shared their perspectives through interviews. These people had varied backgrounds and represented the following sectors: public health, childcare, immigration, literacy, academic, healthcare and family support programs.

The advisory committee helped refine the purpose of the guide and identified the following project objectives:

  • To share research information on the needs of young newcomer children and their parents.
  • To help service providers support the cultural identity of the children in their care.
  • To help service providers familiarize newcomer families with Ontario practices related to early childhood development.
  • To help newcomer families meet their children’s developmental needs.
  • To help strengthen programming so that it is more culturally competent.

III Key Points

The guide is organized as follows:

  1. The first section of the guide provides general information on immigration patterns in Ontario. Who are the various newcomer groups and what are their migratory paths?
  2. This is followed by a section offering suggestions on incorporating culture into day-to-day practice when working with young children and their families. What are some of the differences which may cause conflict? How can service providers see the issues from the newcomers’ perspective?
  3. wo sections focus on specific areas of child development: social and language. Although there are other aspects to child development, these two areas are an important focus in transitioning newcomer children to Canadian communities.
  4. The next section of the manual focuses on healthy living in Canada, acknowledging the challenges newcomers face related to food, community services, weather, etc. What are some of the barriers and how can service providers help overcome these?
  5. The last section is dedicated to parenting and offers strategies to support child development within a variety of family contexts. Often, newcomer families rely on the support of their extended families to raise the children. If the extended family lives with them, these caregivers need to be reached through programming. However, if the extended family is not available, the parents may need additional supports.
  6. Additional sources of information such as key organizations and websites are also provided in the last section of the manual.

IV Practical applications

Each section provides background information on the topic, strategies for service providers, resources, activities and program ideas. The manual contains a number of program suggestions offered by service providers across Ontario. Many of these were gathered through key informant interviews and offer realistic solutions.

Here are some examples of the types of questions a facilitator may receive in an Ontario Early Years Centre from newcomer parents: “Should I speak English to my child or speak my home language” or “My child can speak the home language and has learned English at the daycare. Should I consider putting her in French immersion to increase her future job opportunities?”

The first question has a very clear-cut answer: parents should speak the language which comes more naturally to them and help the child develop a solid foundation in their home language. The second answer has more subtleties and will depend on the child’s interest in languages and on the family’s capacity to support all the languages spoken by the child.

Other practical examples of cultural differences are discussed and a large number of strategies and resources are suggested on topics such as: play-based learning, independence, child discipline, school preparation, the expression of opinions, etc.

These suggestions take into account the social determinants of health and encourage service providers to view each newcomer as an individual and to find out more about that person’s migratory path, current needs and hopes for the future.

V Dissemination

The manual has been available since August 2010 through a free download from the Best Start website. Print copies are available for $7. A regional workshop was held in Waterloo and a webinar was also provided on the topic in the fall. An additional workshop was offered at the Best Start conference at the end of February. Consultations on the topic have been provided by the Best Start staff in French and English, on request to Ontario organizations (for information on consultations, see:

There is a high level of interest in this topic and the workshops have filled up very quickly. Although there is much work to be done, the manual and workshops are a step in the right direction in helping service providers support newcomer families.