Back to top

Kids Grow Ontario: Improving the Knowledge and Reporting Landscape in Ontario

If you have a resource or point of view to add to this article, let us
know by writing to editor@ohpe.ca. More information on our Letters to
the Editor column can be found in the our submission guidelines at
http://www.ohpe.ca.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

I Introduction

There are approximately four million young people living in
Ontario.  Unfortunately, we do not have a clear, overall
understanding of how they are doing.  There is no comprehensive
picture of the state of Ontario's young people and families in their
communities, and no one organization, association, sector, or ministry
that produces reports of this scope.  It is a concern that in
Ontario we have very little of this very important information
available and that we do not have the kind of monitoring system needed
to track the developmental health of young people.  But why do we
need to know how Ontario's young people are doing?

We need this information for a variety of reasons.  We need this
information because we are concerned with how young people live now and
want to act in an informed way to influence and improve the quality of
life they are experiencing.  If we want to improve the lives of
the most vulnerable - those children, for example, who are already
exhibiting behavioural and cognitive problems at an early age or are
growing up in poverty - then we will need to have this
information.  If, as a society, we want to embark on a
human-development agenda where the playing field is levelled and the
negative impact of chance and circumstance is minimized for every
child, then we need to know.  We need to have this information if
we want to use our tax dollars wisely by investing in enduring supports
for children's development that will result in reduced long-term social
costs and increased economic productivity.  Finally, if we want to
ensure that the nearly four million young people are prepared to
succeed us as stewards and leaders of Ontario, then we need to know.
 

If we do not know how young people are doing, nor have a systematic way
to track and measure their progress and to disseminate this information
effectively, how can we provide them with the right conditions and
tools to succeed in life?  

In January 2005, Voices for Children and the Offord Centre for Child
Studies in collaboration launched the Kids Grow Ontario (KGO)
initiative to ameliorate the above-described situation.  With
funding support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, we first set out
to investigate the current knowledge and reporting landscape in
Ontario.  By doing this, we would be better positioned to
recommend how we all can collectively make improvements to the existing
landscape and work towards a shared vision and blueprint for creating a
comprehensive picture of children, youth, and families in communities
across Ontario.  

Since that time we have engaged in many activities that have helped us
gain a better understanding of the current knowledge and reporting
landscape and that will help us move forward in making needed
improvements.  These activities included

  • conducting a broad public online survey concerning information needs, uses, and recommendations;
  • interviewing and meeting with individuals, groups, and
    organizations concerning their reporting and data-related activities
    and plans;
  • creating an online library to house existing reports on children, youth, and families in Ontario;
  • closely tracking the reporting activity based around the Early Development Instrument (EDI); and
  • exploring approaches in other jurisdictions (notably British
    Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and KidsCount in the United States).

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

II What Is the Current Knowledge and Reporting Landscape in Ontario?

Overall, there is wide variance across communities in generating and
disseminating high quality information on children, youth, and families
in communities across Ontario.  
i) Information Uses and Needs: Key Survey Findings

One of our first steps was to identify the information needs of
stakeholders.  We conducted an online survey to help us with this.
 

Respondents told us that there is a great need for a range of
information regarding children, youth, and families in Ontario and that
the current information environment is unsatisfactory. 
Respondents also told us they have difficulties locating,
understanding, and making use of needed information.  

Respondents said they want a solution that makes information easier to
obtain.  This solution needs to bring together a wide range of
information, both on populations and on services/interventions. 
They suggested that, ideally, it needs to be located in a central place
and that systematic means be used to disseminate it.  All
research, knowledge, and data should be presented to make it easy for a
broad range of users to understand and apply.  As well, some form
of support is required to help people understand and use the
information.

While there needs to be some centralized aspect to whatever form this
solution takes, at the same time respondents also made clear the
importance of forming a collaborative network of organizations to do
this work.  This network could create a "primary source" for
obtaining knowledge through the Internet, eliminating many current
barriers and making the Internet a more effective tool for users.
 
Finally, greater involvement of children, youth, and families in the
process would help to ensure the information generated fits with and is
responsive to real-life families and circumstances.

ii) What is being reported about children, youth, and families in Ontario?

It is important to recognize that all communities, many sectors, and
numerous organizations are doing some manner of reporting on children,
youth, and families producing a wide range of reports, which vary
widely in approach and content.

Approaches may include

  • Conceptual framework (e.g., developmental transitions or indicators provide a way to think about a population)
  • Service/program-oriented reports (e.g., playgroup outcomes)
  • Reports containing findings from survey work (e.g., census, local surveys)
  • Reports constructed out of data from various administrative files (e.g., vital statistics registries, income tax files)

Content may include

  • Basic population demographics
  • Physical and mental health features
  • Critical development periods (such as transition to school)
  • Health behaviours
  • Service usage
  • Safety issues (e.g., child car seat use)

Overall, a scan of the reports located thus far indicates

  • Range, quality, and frequency of reports varies greatly
  • No consistency across communities or in reporting features
  • Typically, there is little context provided to explain what data mean
  • Topical reports vs. reporting broadly
  • Limited attention to dissemination and communication of reports
  • Large time gaps between reports
  • Lack of sustainable and sufficient funding to continued projects
  • Limited evidence of rigorous evaluation on use and impact of reports
  • A substantial proportion of reports emerge from public health units (i.e., written by health analysts and epidemiologists)

Overall we see a very mixed reporting environment in Ontario.

iii) The EDI Report Tracking Survey

As another part of our effort to describe the information and reporting
landscape in Ontario, we worked to obtain a clearer understanding of
what community-level reporting had occurred using the Early Development
Instrument (EDI) data.  We used the EDI as a case example because
of the high interest in the early years and because considerable
investment has been made in data collection.  A total of 41 sites
across Ontario were surveyed, using an interview-administered
questionnaire.  These sites had implemented the EDI at least once
between 1998-2004 (i.e., prior to the latest administration of the EDI
for the 2004-2005 school year).  Respondents were, for the most
part, the Early Year's data analysis coordinators (DACs) in each of the
different sites. 

  • There was wide variation across communities regarding quality
    public reporting about the nature of young children's readiness to make
    the transition to school.  Despite the interest and focus on the
    early years, actual comprehensive reporting efforts have been slow to
    follow.
  • 34% of the sites surveyed produced at least one public report
    integrating EDI data and 16% of the sites surveyed produced multiple
    public reports.
  • All the same, there were a number of outstanding EDI reports
    produced in Ontario communities and interest in improving reporting in
    communities is increasing.  Several sites stood out as exemplary
    cases of report dissemination, outreach, and community collaboration.
  • There has been a lack of rigorous evaluation of how those reports
    and the EDI-related information are being picked up and used in
    communities to help support the early development of children and to
    help them make positive transitions to school.

This mixed environment is typical of the broader reporting environment
as described above.  These findings also validate concerns that
many reports "sit on shelves" and that new critical learning about
children's well-being does not get routinely pushed into the public
realm for broader discussion and action.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

III Conclusions about the Overall Knowledge and Reporting Landscape in Ontario

Our surveys and meetings with various stakeholders have told us clearly
that there is a strong need for data and knowledge regarding children,
youth, and families in Ontario.  While many people rely on the
Internet to obtain the information they need, there are many problems
with access and reliability.

Communities, sectors, and organizations all across Ontario are actively
engaged in reporting work, with a variety of organizations playing
important roles in producing reports.  But few communities are
generating reports with consistency, strategy, or frequency. 
Sustained funding is a significant issue for many communities and
organizations involved with reporting initiatives.

The reports themselves come in various forms and cover a fairly wide
range of topics but often there is little context provided to explain
data and little emphasis is placed on presenting the report to a wider
audience.  As our survey illustrates, the potential audiences for
these reports either do not know the reports exist or have great
difficulty obtaining them.  As well, there is limited evidence
that any rigorous evaluation of reports is undertaken to confirm their
use and impact.  

When we look at one particular kind of reporting, that is reports that
integrate EDI data, we find several excellent cases of communities
doing high-quality, comprehensive reporting.  However, EDI-related
reporting offers a mixed picture, one in which only a relatively small
proportion of communities have produced public reports.

There are several interesting and promising data-related developments
unfolding right now in the province.  For example, there is an
increase and improvement in data sets (e.g., ISCIS, NIDAY, EDI, RRFSS,
etc.), provincial government initiatives such as Best Start and the
Local Health Integration Networks, the Provincial Centre of Excellence
for Children's Mental Health at the Children's Hospital of Eastern
Ontario, and several local data warehouse projects around the
province.  However, Ontario has some large gaps to fill and
challenges to meet regarding improving our knowledge and reporting
landscape.

Given this environment, how can we improve the situation so that all
communities across the province have access to a range of high-quality
reports delivering clear, contextualized, useable information about
their populations of children, youth, and families?    

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

IV Where do we go from here?

While there is much activity and many positive developments in Ontario,
the current provincial knowledge and reporting landscape is fragmented
and vulnerable to shifting priorities.  What is needed is the
development of a consistent and sustainable way to measure and monitor
the well-being of Ontario's children and young people.  KGO was
created to do just this.  Our vision is to create an accessible,
evidence-based picture of Ontario's children, youth, and families - in
their communities and across the province - that will allow a wide
range of stakeholders to monitor change and take action to improve
children's well-being.

On the basis of what we have learned in this first phase of the KGO
project, what do we need to do to bring this vision to life?  How
do we move from where we are now (i.e., a fragmented and fragile
information environment comprised of an unsteady mix of reporting
initiatives) to where we want to be (i.e., sustained comprehensive
reporting being done in all communities in Ontario)?

In general, what we need to do is to build capacity that supports
comprehensive reporting in communities.  And from everything we
have investigated and learned so far, we have concluded that reporting
becomes comprehensive when

  • It is based on reliable data of recognizable quality (and these data become even more valuable when data sets are linked);
  • It includes extensive analysis of the data and surrounds the
    reported statistical information with a wide range of contextual
    information drawn from the research literature and from environmental
    scans of each community;
  • The knowledge generated is communicated through a well-planned
    dissemination strategy using a range of approaches and formats for
    different audiences;
  • It involves purposeful effort to engage different stakeholders
    and audiences every step of the way, from identifying their information
    needs to evaluation;
  • Finally, comprehensive reporting requires serious effort to
    evaluate the use and impact of the reports and report information that
    have been disseminated throughout the community, in order to learn what
    the barriers and promoters are to effective reporting in
    communities.  More detail can be obtained from the Kids Grow
    Ontario website at http://www.kidsgrowontario.ca.

Kids Grow Ontario will work to build capacity in communities by engaging in four principal tasks:

  1. Create and promote a KGO-centralized, web-based clearinghouse of
    reporting initiatives, reports, electronic tools, and evaluation
    materials.
  2. Develop and support regional reporting networks to increase
    collaboration between various organizations and systems that will in
    turn support community reporting projects and practices.  As well,
    KGO will strengthen and expand the broader KGO provincial network to
    promote active participation of multiple players (e.g., governments;
    funders; education, healthcare, and community organizations; and
    Ontario's young people and families).
  3. Accelerate the uptake of knowledge through training and
    information exchange activities (e.g., online seminars, reporting
    roundtables, expert analysis and conferences) to enable, support, and
    strengthen comprehensive reporting efforts across Ontario.
  4. Develop a clear provincial "picture" that will tell the
    much-needed story of how child and youth development is unfolding in
    Ontario.  This picture will be built largely out of an analysis of
    all the existent community-level reports produced in Ontario and, as
    such, will not only report on the nature and state of young people
    across the province but will also illuminate the exact state of
    community-level reporting across the province.  This provincial
    picture will also be an important tool in pushing forward development
    of comprehensive reporting at the community level.

By these means, and with the resultant improved reporting landscape, we
can all more assuredly work to support the healthy development of
Ontario's children and youth.