Results at a Glance - Evaluation of the Aboriginal Head Start in Urban and Northern Communities Program at the Public Health Agency of Canada

Aboriginal Head Start in Urban and Northern Communities (AHSUNC)

  • The AHSUNC program was created in 1995 and is an early childhood development initiative for Indigenous preschool children and families living off-reserve.
  • Through PHAC contribution funding, Indigenous community organizations design and deliver holistic programs to enhance the spiritual, emotional, physical and social well-being of Indigenous children aged 0-6 and their families.
  • The ultimate goal of the program is to help parents and children build a better future for themselves while being supported by community partners.
  • AHSUNC activities are managed within the Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention Branch and led by the Centre for Health Promotion in collaboration with Regional Operations. 
  • The Program constitutes a federal investment of $174.1 million over the past 5 years.

What the evaluation found

  • There is a continued need for culturally appropriate and holistic early childhood education programming in off-reserve, urban and Northern communities due to: 1) the changing demographics of Indigenous people in Canada, 2) the importance of early childhood development on future education success, and 3) the need for cultural  programming that meets the specific needs of Indigenous children.
  • The AHSUNC program has increased developmental benefits for participating children, including those with special needs, and provided long term benefits from exposure to Indigenous culture and language.
  • The program’s ability to reach children and families who most need AHSUNC programming can be affected by several barriers to access and delivery, including geographic location, limited capacity to serve students with special needs, and transportation.
  • Given that funding levels have remained constant since program inception, sites have adjusted by implementing such strategies as cutting positions to allow for wage increases, rotating outstanding responsibilities (e.g., bus driver, cook, outreach) among the remaining staff and, in some cases, reducing the range of services offered.
  • There are economic benefits to investing in early child development (ECD) programming, with returns on investment of up to $17 for every $1 spent.  Currently, Canada spends 0.3 percent of its GDP in early childhood education, the lowest among 14 OECD countries.Footnote 1
  • Since 2013, significant changes to the way PHAC manages its grants and contributions programs have occurred, leading to the need for clearly defined roles for all PHAC centres of responsibility (Centre for Grants and Contributions, Program, Regions) in order to enhance the support provided to communities.

Recommendations and responses

  1. The Agency’s centres of responsibility involved in managing and administrating AHSUNC should clarify roles and responsibilities in providing support to participating communities with a view to enhancing collaborative efforts among centres.

    Response:  The Program will: 1) engage staff and management from all centres of responsibility in clarifying the roles and responsibilities of those involved; 2) develop a product (e.g. infographic) that clearly outlines these roles and responsibilities; and 3) distribute this product to AHSUNC program sites.

  2. The program should continue supporting quality programming through funding of early childhood educator training, particularly to address children’s special needs, and continue funding transportation to support participation of children in the program.

    Response: AHSUNC Strategic Funding will be allocated to program sites for transportation and special needs training over the next 3 years.

About the evaluation

The purpose of the evaluation was to assess the relevance and performance of the AHSUNC program from April 2011 to September 2016.  The evaluation included a literature review, a document review, key informant interviews, a performance data review, and a focus group. 

March 2017


Footnote 1

Canadian Labour Congress, 2013, Child care in Canada: A Scarce Resource.

Return to footnote 1 referrer

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