Friday, January 17, 2020


Better Beginnings, Better Futures is one of the most ambitious research projects on the long-term impacts of early childhood development programming ever initiated in Canada.

The Better Beginnings, Better Futures model is designed to prevent young children in low income, high risk neighbourhoods from experiencing poor developmental outcomes, which then require expensive health, education and social services. The Better Beginnings model has been implemented in 8 socio-economically disadvantaged communities in Ontario since 1991.


The Better Beginnings, Better Futures Project had its origin in the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services. The 1983 Ontario Child Health Study revealed that one in six children has an identifiable emotional or behavioural disorder.The report also identified that children living in families that received social assistance or who lived in subsidized housing were at greater risk for these problems.

In 1989, The Better Beginnings, Better Futures model was accepted by the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services as the model with which to launch its longitudinal prevention policy research demonstration project. One year later, in spring of 1990, the Ontario Government released a Request for Proposals.

Proposal development grants of approximately $5,000 each were awarded to 55 initial applicants. Forty-eight proposals were submitted in July 1990 and reviewed by a fifteen-member Proposal Review Panel. The top 25 were visited in person by the panel. The eight selected communities were announced in January, 1991.


Each selected community was funded to develop a local prevention project that would address the following goals:

Child Goals

Prevention: to reduce emotional and behavioural problems in children.
Promotion: to promote social, emotional, behavioural, physical, and educational development in children.

Parent/Family Goals

Parent Education and Support: to strengthen the abilities of parents and families to respond effectively to the needs of their children.

Neighbourhood/Community Goals

Comprehensive/Holistic Programs:
to develop high-quality programs for children from birth to age four or from four to eight years of age and their families that respond effectively to the local needs of the neighbourhood.

Resident Participation: to encourage neighbourhood parents and other citizens to participate as equal partners with service-providers in the planning, designing and carrying out of programs for children and families, as well as other activities in the local community.

Integrated Programs: to establish partnerships with existing and new service-providers and educational organizations and to coordinate program activities.


Children aged 0-4 or 4-8 years and their families living in economically disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Ontario with multiple high risks for poor child development.


Infant/Preschool Model (Focus on Children 0 - 4years)

Guelph: Willow Road neighbourhood (625 children)
North Kingston neighbourhood (1,095 children)
Southeast Ottawa: Albion-Heatherington-Fairlea-Ledbury neighbourhoods (690 children)
Toronto: Moss Park/Regent park (1,125 children)
Walpole Island First Nation (250 children)

Preschool/Primary School Model (Focus on Children 4-8 years)

Cornwall: 4 Francophone primary schools (530 children)
Highfield: Highfield Junior School neighbourhood (517 children)
Sudbury: Flour Mill/le Moulin à Fleur and Donovan neighbourhoods (503 children)

Children who participated in Better Beginnings when they were 4 to 8 years old used fewer government programs from age 4 to 18, resulting in a cost-savings to government of $2.50 for every $1.00 invested during those early four years (Peters et al., 2015).
Better Beginnings has been featured in the Canadian Best Practices Portal for Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention - Public Health Agency of Canada, by Canada’s National Crime Prevention Council in their “Promising and Model Prevention Programs”, by The Canadian Population Health Initiative as an exemplar of how to promote mental health, and by UNESCO as an exemplary model in a book distributed in 33 countries.
“Only Ontario’s Better Beginnings, Better Futures (BBBF) explicitly included mental health within its major program goals, incorporated multiple features seen in effective (conduct disorder) prevention programs and demonstrated positive child mental health outcomes…BBBF is an exemplar for such [prevention] programs.” (Waddell, C., Hua, J.M., Garland, O.M., Peters, R.DeV., & McEwan, K. (2007). Preventing mental disorder in children: A systematic review to inform policy-making. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 98, 174-178.)
“… The Better Beginnings, Better Futures Project is unique in our review as a large-scale community based intervention that uses participatory research methods to target all three mesosystems: families, schools, and community-based organizations.” (Durlak, J.A., Taylor, R.D., Kawashima, K., Pachan, M.K., DuPre, E.P., Celio, C.I., Berger, S.R., Dymnicki, A.B., & Weissberg R.P. (2007). Effects of positive youth development programs on school, family and community systems. American Journal of Community Psychology, 39,269-286.)
“The Better Beginnings, Better Futures study to date makes a valuable contribution to our knowledge about how to do research about what works for young children and their families at a community level. The real power of the study will probably be in the findings that will come from the longitudinal follow-up.” (Daniel P. Keating, Atkinson Chair, Early Child Development and Education, OISE/University of Toronto)
“The Better Beginnings, Better Futures report is both special and important. It shows that locally developed and operated initiatives CAN counteract many of the negative developmental effects of growing up in a disadvantaged community. All those concerned with making the Canadian Children’s Agenda a success should carefully study this report.” (Dr. Clyde Hertzman, Department of Health Care and Epidemiology, University of British Columbia)
“The children and their families in economically disadvantaged communities deserve an improved life quality and enriched life chances. A central issue is: How should this be done? The Better Beginnings, Better Futures project, which involves community residents in locally-grown solutions, makes an important and creative contribution to this issue. The project’s principles should be widely disseminated.” (Dr. Dan Offord, Director, Canadian Centre for Studies of Children at Risk, McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences Corporation)
“The Better Beginnings, Better Futures story expresses how a mobilized community and a collaborative network of service providers can make all the difference in the lives of families. In doing the Early Years Study, we saw and heard this directly from community participants.” (J. Fraser Mustard, Founders’ Network and Co-Chair, Early Years Study, Ontario, 1999).
‘The promise of Better Beginnings, Better Futures is being kept: Eight communities are continuing to take action in support of their children and hundreds more across Canada will learn how they did it! Thank you Better Beginnings, Better Futures Communities.” (Nicole Lafrenière-Davis, Acting Director and Senior Advisor, Division of Childhood and Adolescence, Health Canada)
Order the Toolkit
The toolkit is designed to provide details on the Better Beginnings, Better Futures initiative and to assist others (e.g., service providers, community members) who would like to develop a similar initiative in their own communities. The toolkit is comprised of 7 chapters, including:
  • History and Overview
  • Developing Your Program Model
  • Research and Evaluation
  • Community Resident Participation
  • Engaging Community Partners
  • Project Organization and Management
  • Working with Government and Other Funders
Toolkit Summary: There is also a summary available with key points and highlights from all 7 chapters.

Toolkit DVD: The DVD includes interview clips and information that complement the toolkit. The DVD, like the toolkit, is divided into segments.

To order the toolkit, the summary or DVD please fill out this online order form.
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