Training: Meeting the Challenges of Early Childhood

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By Gilda Spitz

Parents all over the world face similar challenges with the arrival of their babies – the sleepless nights, the worries about their health, the concerns for their future. And as the children grow, the responsibilities of the parents grow too.

When you’re trying deal with the worries and problems of raising small children, and you’re trying to get settled in all at the same time, the challenges seem to multiply.

Challenges for the parents

One of the biggest issues for newcomer families with babies and small children is medical coverage. According to a website of the government of Ontario, “there is a three-month waiting period for Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) coverage.” Newborn babies are exempt from the three-month rule, but the mother is not. When newcomers first arrive, recommends Wendy Zhao, a settlement worker at the Cross Cultural Community Services Association, they should purchase health insurance within the first seven days in Ontario for the three months until OHIP kicks in.

Many families have questions and concerns about daycare, which can be very expensive, especially when the family is already under financial pressure to get established in Canada.

And everything is more difficult when you don’t speak English. If possible, “it’s a good idea to find a settlement agency where they can ask their questions in their [your] mother tongue,” says Zhao.

Natalia Tizon, a professional translator originally from Spain, remembers difficulties when her first daughter was born. “When you have a baby in a Canadian hospital, you go home with a bag full of photocopies and brochures to help you with everything you should do (where to go if you have problems feeding your baby, where to call for medical issues, how to request a birth certificate for your newborn). However, when you are brand new in the country, everything seems overwhelming.”

Challenges for the children

Cindy Kwan, Coordinator of Settlement Training Services at the Canadian Mothercraft Society, has experience dealing with newcomer families with babies and small children. “Mothercraft has experience delivering practice based workshops and training to over 30,000 service providers across Canada on issues related to early childhood development, parenting, and healthy family functioning,” she says.

Kwan talks about “culture shock” and points out that the parents are not the only ones who may be struggling. There are challenges for young newcomer children as well.

Dealing with the challenges

Many newcomers receive help in their day-to-day challenges from settlement workers and other specialists. To help those specialists provide specific assistance for families with babies and small children, the Canadian Mothercraft Society has designed a new course called Caring forCanada’s Children, now in its second year of operation.
“Settlement workers have very significant training and professional development needs, specific to their newcomer clientele,” explains Kwan. Early learning specialists, early childhood educators, and health care professionals can also benefit from the course, which is sponsored by Citizenship and Immigration Canada – Ontario Region. Mothercraft delivers this free course, in collaboration with Frameline Productions, and participants who complete the course receive a certificate of completion from Mothercraft College.

The course “consists of an online professional development course on family and childhood issues, with a particular emphasis on the impacts of immigration, complemented by strategies to improve the ability of settlement workers to take action if they identify situations requiring intervention,” says Kwan.

The objectives of the Caring for Canada’s Children course are designed to teach settlement workers to help their newcomer clients deal with a variety of challenges:

● To increase knowledge of newcomer settlement workers in Ontario of healthy family and child development
● To increase knowledge of settlement workers of the impacts of immigration on family and child development
● To build capacity of newcomer settlement workers to identify and know how to refer clients to appropriate services
● To increase knowledge of mainstream family and child care service providers about the special needs of immigrant families and the ways in which they can work with settlement workers to achieve improved referrals and interventions
● To evaluate the effectiveness of online professional development courses for settlement workers

Does the course work?

Settlement workers who have completed the course are enthusiastic, says Kwan. Some participants offered the following comments:
“It is really great knowledge … about understanding the situation from the child’s point of view.”
“This workshop gave me a lot of information about immigrant and refugee families and trauma. And I’m sure that it will be helpful in my field.”
“I learned to work with the family as a whole, not just the child. …Sometimes we forget that what we suggest to the family won’t happen overnight. This course helped me to check in with myself, step back, and chew over what I need to say to the families.”

For more information
● The Canadian Mothercraft Society: Go to or call 416-483-0511
● Cross Cultural Community Services Association: call 905-948-1671
● OHIP: Go to


Gilda Spitz

As an award-winning technical writer for almost 20 years, Gilda has expanded her skillset to writing clear, easy-to-read non-fiction in addition to her usual wide variety of writing, editing, and indexing services. She can be reached or visit

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