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How to Reach Francophones: Maternal and Early Years Programs

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I Introduction

The Best Start Resource Centre recently released a manual to help service providers working in maternal and early years programming reach the francophone population of Ontario. The manual, entitled "How to Reach Francophones - Maternal and Early Years Programs", describes some of the challenges and suggests strategies to overcome them. The manual can be ordered or downloaded at

Developed by interviewing service providers who offer maternal and early years programs to Francophones in Ontario, the manual features a sample of their successful program stories. Demographic data and various reports on the provision of services to minority groups were also reviewed in the production of the resource.

While the manual was written for maternal health and early childhood development service providers, the learnings can be applied to other settings and target audiences.

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II Francophones in Ontario

Francophones living in Ontario are as diversified as the English-speaking population. They have a wide variety of income and educational levels and their country of origin differs. Although many Francophones who have spent most of their life in Ontario are bilingual, there are now a growing percentage of newcomers who speak only French, in conjunction with perhaps a non-official language. For these people, French services are very important, especially considering they sometimes have limited supports and high needs due to recent immigration.

There are approximately 550,000 "Franco-Ontarians," representing approximately 5% of the population. The percentage varies across the province; for example, in north-eastern Ontario, 25% of the population is francophone. At the federal level, Francophones have specific rights to services in French through the Constitution. Additionally, the French Language Services Act of Ontario identifies 25 regions of the province where provincial government services must be offered in French.

On June 17, 2008, Ontario's new French Language Services Commissioner, François Boileau, released his first annual report, offering recommendations to ensure compliance with the French Language Services Act and eliminate loopholes. The report recommends that the government must adopt clear regulations regarding the delivery of French-language services in the case of contracts with third parties and public-private partnerships on behalf of government agencies and ministries.

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III Challenges in Reaching Francophones

The main challenges of francophone outreach outlined in the manual are summarized next.

  • Socio-cultural context: Francophones have a variety of backgrounds and needs, making outreach more difficult. Interpersonal relationships are key and it may take some time to build these relationships. Francophones may also choose programs in English for convenience reasons.
  • Literacy levels: Francophones in Ontario have a wide variety of literacy levels. Many of them have received some of their formal education in English but are more comfortable talking in French.
  • "Exogamous" families: Many families have one parent speaking French and one speaking another language and this poses a challenge in the provision of services, especially when both parents are involved.
  • Multicultural context: The needs of newcomer Francophones may be very different from that of established Francophones and programming needs to be adapted.
  • Preparation for French-language school: Even if a child has a right to education in French, the child must have sufficient knowledge of the language prior to entering school, which is sometimes a challenge in minority environments.
  • Working environment of service providers: Service providers are often geographically dispersed from one another and often have to be able to offer a wider range of services than their English-speaking colleagues.

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IV  Strategies to Reach Francophones

The manual offers specific strategies to address each of these challenges, as well as some general strategies. While the manual contains many more, below is a sample of some of the practical suggestions offered.


  • Reflect the cultural context appropriately. Do not just translate a document; adapt it.
  • Resources from Quebec or France are not necessarily appropriate. Study them carefully before using them and adapt them if needed.
  • Let participants know if material is available in French, even in English programs.


  • Form alliances with other French and English community agencies to further promote programs and events and make the most of available resources.
  • Adapt programs to the specific needs of clients. The same approach or format does not necessarily work with the entire francophone population.
  • Involve a francophone representative from your audience of interest in designing and planning programs. This person can help with the development, promotion and implementation of the program.
  • School is an excellent environment on which to base the development of French-language services, such as child care centres, early years centres and toy libraries. School can provide a lasting link between early childhood and school age as well as an opportunity to share resources.
  • Before offering a French-language program, it may be necessary to promote the idea and the importance of a French-language program, especially to exogamous (mixed language) families.
  • Since the foundation for much behaviour is laid in the early years, use that opportunity to instil healthy behaviours and solid links to community resources available in French.
  • Be ready to deliver programs for smaller groups, e.g., groups of five individuals or five couples.


  • Francophone outreach can take more time and energy and can require a long-term relationship with the target groups.
  • Francophones in a minority environment have a strong oral culture, so word of mouth and personal contact are preferred mediums.
  • During advertising campaigns, verify the effectiveness of the promotional message and any visual elements used with francophone clients, especially when a similar English-language campaign is used. A focus group may be helpful in adapting the message for the francophone audience.
  • Since some Francophones prefer to get written information in English, it may be helpful to promote French-language programs in both French and English, depending on the local media.
  • Francophones also sometimes get information through their social and community networks, such as professional associations, youth groups, education networks, religious organizations, health care and social services, sports and leisure associations, financial institutions, libraries, service clubs, etc. These can provide other channels to promote a program or event, for example, through these groups' newsletters, bulletin boards, meetings and displays.

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V Featured Programs    

The manual contains brief profiles of a few programs offered in Ontario in the areas of maternal health and early childhood development. Highlighted below are three of these:

The Centre de santé communautaire Hamilton/Niagara offers intergenerational activities which match seniors with families of children ages 0-6 for crafts, activities, stories and songs. This provides everyone a great opportunity to share stories and reinforce cultural links.

The Centre francophone de Toronto has partnered with anglophone agencies to ensure they know to refer francophone clients to their agency. They also produce bilingual promotional materials so that anglophone service providers can learn about the services that are delivered at the Centre francophone de Toronto.

The Ontario Early Years Centre of Simcoe North has produced kits in French that can be loaned to parents. These kits contain books, song CDs and a variety of games in French. This is particularly useful for parents as it is very difficult to purchase materials in French in many parts of Ontario.

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VI Conclusion

Reaching Francophones through maternal and early years programming provides an excellent opportunity to connect people to programs at a stage of life when children are building their francophone identity. There are many very interesting programs happening across Ontario and the research conducted in the production of this manual has served as a great networking opportunity, allowing francophone service providers across Ontario to share ideas and build upon their programs. Best Start hopes that this new resource will serve to improve understanding of the Franco-Ontarian mosaic and to offer strategies for all service providers to effectively reach out to the community in ways that can easily be adapted to each community's unique needs.

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A Supplement: French Language Service Supports for OHPRS Members

- by Sherri Anderson, OHPRS French Language Service Committee

The Ontario Healthy Promotion Resource System (OHPRS) French Language Service Committee was established in 2002. Its main goals are

  1. To support the organizational development of the OHPRS and its members' capacity to provide a range of quality services in French to francophone intermediaries; and
  2. To promote to OHPRS members and the Ministry of Health Promotion the importance of providing French language services (FLS) to intermediaries and Ontario's Francophone communities.

Services/ supports to OHPRS members include

  • Workshops for OHPRS members;
  • An inventory of all available OHPRS members' French language resources;
  • An electronic "toolbox" of information/resources for planning, implementing or evaluating their French language services; and
  • Provision of bilingual OHPRS promotional resources.

For the past three years, the French Language Service Committee has:

  • Provided the services of a consultant to assist members in development of their FLS capacity,
  • Offered funding to members for small FLS projects, and
  • Organized the Francophone Capacity Tour--a collaborative effort which showcases the services that OHPRS offers Francophone health promotion intermediaries and communities around the province.

Additional activities this year include:

  • An opportunity for OHPRS members to access French media for promotion of their events, resources, etc.;
  • A full-day event in September for OHPRS members and Francophone service providers and intermediaries to network, share information and discover new ways to work together; and
  • Evaluation of the work of the French Language Service Committee's 3-year strategic plan (2005-2008) via a survey of OHPRS members and focus group sessions. Results of this evaluation will inform the committee in planning its next steps (for 2009/2010 and beyond).