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Delta kids among least likely in Lower Mainland to struggle with school and life, study finds

Emotional maturity among kindergartners a potential issue in North Delta

The kids in Delta are doing alright, Delta’s social planner Gillian McLeod said, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for improvement.

On Monday, Aug. 14, McLeod presented the most recent survey findings from UBC’s Human Early Learning Partnership’s Early Development Instrument (EDI) to council. The EDI examines the percentage of vulnerable kindergarten students in communities across the province every two to three years.

In a fact sheet put out by UBC, the EDI defines vulnerability as a statistic that shows “the portion of the population which, without additional support and care, may experience future challenges in school and society.”

According to McLeod, there is a direct correlation between vulnerability, as defined in the EDI, and time in juvenile detention, poor decision-making and drug use.

Delta kids scored low in most categories — which is good. There was a 12 per cent vulnerability in physical health and well-being, while social competence had 13 per cent vulnerability and communication had 11 per cent.

According to the Human Early Learning Partnership, vulnerability levels above 10 per cent are considered avoidable.

Delta had eight per cent vulnerability in language and cognitive skills this year, one area where McLeod said people could see real results from municipal programming.

“You can see that (when the survey began) language and communication were actually an area of concern in Delta,” she said.

In 2004-2007, when concern about language and cognitive skills was first noted, Delta as a whole saw an 11 per cent vulnerability in language and cognitive development.

But that concern varied across Delta’s communities and neighbourhoods. In North Delta East, the vulnerability was at 15 per cent, while in Tsawwassen it was at three per cent.

The EDI lists Delta’s neighbourhoods as Tsawwassen, Ladner — Delta Rural, North Delta East (which includes Townline, Royal Heights, Kennedy, Richardson, Burnsview and Scottsdale), North Delta West (which includes Annieville, Sunbury, Sunstone, Royal York and the western half of Nordel) and Sunshine Hills (which also includes Sunshine Woods and Delta’s section of Panorama Ridge).

Although the statistics don’t explain why vulnerabilities are in particular neighbourhoods, “it lets the agencies know that maybe you want to step up your services and your programming in that area for that neighbourhood,” McLeod said.

After increased municipal programming, North Delta East is seeing an 11 per cent vulnerability in language and cognitive skills — still the highest of any Delta neighbourhood, but lower than the 2008-2009 high of 18 per cent.

Delta’s neighbourhoods continue to vary in their vulnerability.

While Delta as a municipality sees 28 per cent of kids being vulnerable in more than one category (compared to the provincial average of 32 per cent) while North Delta West and Tsawwassen both have 24 per cent.

Sunshine Hills has 31 per cent vulnerability in more than one category and North Delta East has 34 per cent.

North Delta East also has the highest degree of vulnerability in Delta for physical health and well-being (19 per cent), social competence (16 per cent), language and cognitive development (11 per cent) and communication skills (16 per cent).

However, it was Sunshine Hills that was most vulnerable in emotional maturity, with 23 per cent vulnerability. This is also where Delta as a whole struggled, with the percentage increasing from 10 per cent in 2008-2009 to 15 per cent in 2014-2016.

Emotional maturity is related to a child’s ability to deal with anxiety and stress, meaning that kids are more emotionally ready to deal with school- or life-related issues when they hit kindergarten.

“What we’re finding is this (increase in vulnerability) is true across the province,” McLeod said. “The emotional needs, the anxiety levels of our children are becoming more of a concern.”

Following McLeod’s presentation, Mayor Lois Jackson asked whether the prevalence of vulnerability in emotional maturity across the province could be connected to “the bubble wrap kids.”

“They don’t have an opportunity to learn, or fall down, or learn that they aren’t supposed to ride down the sidewalk without any brakes on a tricycle,” Jackson continued. “How then is this (emotional maturity) taught?”

In responding to Jackson, McLeod said even if the emotional maturity was related to a larger trend, it didn’t hurt to provide services to respond to it.

“We can start doing direct application of service based on (EDI) results, even if it is a blip — improving doesn’t hurt us for a little while,” she added.

One of the ways Delta has already begun to address the issue is with the installation of adventure playgrounds earlier this summer.

Related: Unstructured play comes to North Delta

“We teach kids how to find their own risk tolerance, how to find their own social interaction at a very young age,” Ken Kuntz, the director of parks, recreation and culture, said about the playgrounds. “And we don’t do that, we let the kids figure that out.”

Another way that Delta has been focusing on emotional maturity is with its #ScreensOffDelta campaign, which started in 2015.

“What research is showing is a direct correlation between too much screen time and an inability to make decisions,” McLeod said. “To be active, … to take risks, to understand that conflict is not a bad thing, all of those skills are not developing in brains that are spending too much time on screens.”

As McLeod was keen to point out, Delta isn’t doing poorly with its vulnerability percentages, compared to the rest of the Lower Mainland. In fact, Delta is tied with Langley for having the best — that is, the lowest — percentages for vulnerability in more than one category in the Lower Mainland, at 28 per cent. EDI researchers would like to see all school districts between seven and 11 per cent.

Within each school district, neighbourhoods have a large variation in vulnerability, with inner city regions tending to struggle most.

During McLeod’s presentation to council, she complemented UBC’s research with qualitative research of Delta’s own. The DeltaKids committee sent out a survey to toddlers, children and parents about how they saw Delta in relation to their family lives. The survey asked kids questions about where they liked to go, while it focused on common civic matters with parents, such as transportation and access to services.

Overall, the survey found that respondents had mostly positive reactions to schools and private transportation in the civic survey questions, while they had more negative reactions to questions about housing, childcare and access to medical care.

The question with the highest number of positive responses was, somewhat surprisingly for some, the ease of travelling by car. Eighty-four per cent of parents said they found it convenient to drive a car around their community with children.

Part of that positive response may have come from how the question was phrased, McLeod said.

“When questions were asked about whether you find it easy to move from North to South Delta, or use other kinds of transportation, the answers were significantly different,” she said.

On the negative side, parents were more likely to point to services: 46 per cent of parents said it was difficult to access doctors in Delta, and 40 per cent said it was difficult to access mental health workers.

From both the EDI and the DeltaKids survey, McLeod said there were two main areas where the municipality could be of service to families: providing programs and facilities to help manage stress, and advocating for more affordable living.

Following the presentation to council, Jackson suggested that many of the negative responses by parents are actually in areas that fall under the purview of the provincial government, rather than the local government.

Councillors Bruce McDonald, Jeannie Kanakos and Heather King said the opposite, stating the information provided in reports like this can help council make decisions to support the community.

“I don’t look at this as perhaps with the same view of Mayor Jackson, but more where are there opportunities to do even better,” King said.

“I would like us, when we’re looking at our budget next year, to really see if we could take this report and encompass that into the report for engineering as we go through and look at where we should be funding things, what priorities are there.”