Guest Blog: Ontario Community Hubs Summit 2017 Overview - Day 2

Date: May 9, 2017

Day 2

The day began with an exploration of integrated, client-centred services for children. Each service partner, including schools, sees only a sliver of the picture. The focus was on abused children, and the point was made that abusers are usually known by the victims, and often the abuse happens at home, invisible to service providers. One speaker visualized the challenge of responding to their needs as service partners operating vertically (in silos) while life happens horizontally with no regard to those silos. It was an interesting perspective that supported the provision of multiple supports to students in schools where behaviour indicative of need occurs. The conclusion was the need to work together, and that to make change in our existing systems we need government, community members and champions. This was not news to us but it was good to hear it being acknowledged.  

Whatever we do that we hope improves the lives of kids in school needs to be tracked and evaluated. The need for evidence of positive outcomes produces a tool to support sustainability. The Community Hubs Network (described in the day one entry) includes GIS mapping based on the social and environmental determinants of health so that we can map areas of material deprivation (e.g., income, employment). The Advisory Group is currently working on developing datasets to help communities target their efforts, reflecting areas of the 211 service. This provides a tool for measuring the benefits of integration which in turn promotes sustainable funding.  

A panel discussion on community hubs in operating schools called on members of school board associations - public, Catholic, French public and French Catholic. They highlighted the need for different funding formulas for rural schools, with several suggesting the need for more local autonomy in the dispensation of funding. One panelist pointed out that community hubs are not a solution to declining enrolment, and that one reason for that is that schools have to focus on their mandate of education in a fiscally responsible way. However, another panelist said that funding regulations prevent new solutions.
Perhaps we need to start thinking about education and schooling in a more holistic way that recognizes the interdependency between students and their communities. As one panelist said, it is time to disrupt the system.

All in all, the summit focused on service integration in an urban setting. There are many lessons we can take from it, though, to adapt to the rural context. Information provided at the summit reinforces the need for creative use of small rural schools that supports both the whole student and the community connection that is a vital part of that student’s and that community’s wellbeing.