Supporting Indigenous child & family wellness

Jessica Ball, MPH, Ph.D.
Enid Elliot, PhD.
Onowa McIvor, Ph.D.
Diana Nicholson, Ph.D.
Maureen Simpkins, Ph.D.
Kim Anderson, Ph.D.

Lil’wat Nation
Tl’azt’en Nation
Treaty 8 Tribal Association
Nutsumaat Lelum Child Care Centre, Chemainus First Nation, B.C.
Smun'een Aboriginal Head Start, Penelakut Tribe, Kuper Island, B.C.
“We will raise a generation of First Nations, Inuit and Métis children and youth who do not have to recover from their childhoods. It starts now, with all our strength, courage, wisdom and commitment.”
Cindy Blackstock, Dawn Bruyere and Elizabeth Moreau (2005, p.1)

Project background

This long-standing project area documents the many ways that community-led programs are infused with local, culturally-based values and knowledge that can support children and family’s optimal functioning and quality of life. In particular, early childhood programs can improve the wellness and positive cultural identity of parents, extended family members, and communities. When parents feel supported in their roles, they tend to have better mental and physical health, and to be more positive and responsive in their caregiving. Early childhood programs can promote social cohesion and wellness in communities by connecting families with each other and with staff, providing a setting for the exchange of knowledge, and by alerting staff and families to emerging needs and ways to meet these needs. With this in mind, many early childhood programs, such as Aboriginal Head Start in Canada, take a family-centred approach, respond to culturally based goals for children, and use a range of strategies to encourage active parent involvement and to enhance social support.

Project goals

This broad project area has sought to document promising practices in social services and early childhood programs that can enhance the quality of life and chances for success of children and families, especially Indigenous and other non-dominant cultural communities. Team members’ research capabilities have been deployed to support First Nations communities in Canada as well as Indigenous communities around the world. This research has documented community-led initiatives and disseminated information about their goals, successes and needs. Work by Dr. Kim Anderson, Jessica Ball, and others has aimed to raise awareness among the public as well as policy makers about the urgent need to improve the living conditions, access to services, and life opportunities of many Indigenous children and families.

One study within this project area focused on the measurement of social support through a family’s connection to an early childhood program. Parent involvement and experiences of social support are important indicators of program effectiveness. These can be difficult outcomes to measure. Most research-based tools for measuring social support are long, intrusive, and often make assumptions about lifestyles and choices that may or may not be available to parents. Parents in rural and remote communities, in low-income households and in low-income countries may be very constrained in terms of resources available for them and opportunities to develop strong social support networks. Our study, conducted by Dr. Enid Elliott and Jessica Ball, produced a short, plain language tool that is relevant and meaningful to First Nations parents and is practical, non-intrusive, and culturally sensitive.

Project outcomes

Over two decades, this project area’s many impacts include:

  • Documentation of the positive impacts of culturally based early childhood programs and family support initiatives on children, families, and communities.
  • Creation of a simple tool to measure social support as one indicator of program success.
  • Generated insights about how parents are affected by their involvement in childcare programs via their children, with particular focus on the quality, quantity, and accessibility of the social support that they perceive and receive.
  • Analyzed the effective components of Aboriginal Home Instruction for Parents of Preschool Youngsters (HIPPY) and Aboriginal Head Start
  • Highlighted the wellness promoting contributions of Indigenous language and culture in programs for children and families
  • Underscored the necessity to advocate for policy reforms to improve the living conditions and other determinants of wellness of Indigenous children, families and communities.


B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development through the Human Early Learning Partnership:


View all reports and resources related to this project.