The behaviours initiated in youth create a foundation for health through the life course (Toronto Public Health, 2015). Supporting student achievement and improving overall quality of life for children and youth is a priority shared across multiple sectors, including health and education. Both the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education have identified the importance of this stage of development through the Ontario Public Health Standards (OPHS) and the Ontario Curriculum (2019), and the interrelationship between health, well-being and educational outcomes. Collecting, analyzing and reporting data at the local level is essential for the planning, delivery and evaluation of effective and efficient services that meet the unique needs of students and ensure the responsible public stewardship of the resources allocated to these services (Windsor-Essex, 2017). The lack of a coordinated provincial system for the assessment and monitoring of child and youth health that meets local needs has been the focus of many reports, including the 2017 Annual Report of the Ontario Auditor General. The Auditor General’s report identified that children are a public health priority population and that epidemiological data on children are not readily available to public health units for planning and measuring effective programming (Office of the Auditor General of Ontario, 2017).
In the initial report, Children Count: Assessing Child and Youth Surveillance Gaps for Ontario Public Health Units (Populations Health Assessment LDCP Team, 2017), public health units and school boards identified a need for local data related to mental health, physical activity and healthy eating for school-aged children and youth. In 2017, the Children Count Locally Driven Collaborative Projects (LDCP) Team convened a Task Force of leaders in education, public health, research, government and non-governmental organizations to explore solutions and make recommendations for improving assessment and monitoring of child and youth health. The Task Force recommendations have been endorsed by many organizations including the Council of Directors of Education (CODE) and Council of Medical Officers of Health (COMOH). In their report, the Children Count Task Force (Children Count Task Force, 2019) recommended building on existing infrastructure by using the Ministry of Education’s mandated school climate survey (SCS). The SCS provides population level data for children and youth grades 4 to 12 and represents a significant opportunity to understand local health needs of students.
In follow up to this previous work, the Children Count LDCP Team, with a renewal grant from Public Health Ontario (PHO), embarked upon The Children Count Pilot Study Project. The Children Count Pilot Study began in December 2017 with the goal to explore the feasibility of coordinated monitoring and assessment of child and youth health, utilizing the SCS, to address local health data gaps. This provincial project included six school board and public health unit pairings who developed and piloted a Healthy Living Module (HLM) as part of the school board’s SCS. The HLM covered the topics previously prioritized of mental health, healthy eating, and physical activity.
The objectives of the Pilot Study were:
- To work collaboratively to develop a HLM for the SCS;
- To pilot test and evaluate the applicability and feasibility of the partnership between public health units and school boards in coordinated monitoring and assessment utilizing the SCS; and
- To develop a toolkit for implementation of coordinated monitoring and assessment for health service planning using the SCS for child and youth health in Ontario.
Using a Participatory Action Research (PAR) model, the steering committee (comprised of school board and public health leadership), worked together to build the HLM. The HLM was successfully integrated into the SCS led by participating school boards. Collaboratively school boards and local public health units analyzed and interpreted the results for knowledge sharing and planning.
The HLM enriched each school boards’ SCS and identified areas for further work to support student health and well-being. The process of piloting the HLM with multiple and diverse school boards using different methods demonstrated that the overall process of coordinating a HLM into the SCS is feasible and adaptable to suit local needs while still enabling consistency in data across regions. The Children Count Pilot Project captured the process and lessons learned in their final report (December 2019) as well as developed the Children Count Pilot Study Project: Healthy Living Module Toolkit as a guide for school boards and health units across the province.
Whereas, boards of health are required under the Ontario Public Health Standards (OPHS) to collect and analyze health data for children and youth to monitor trends over time, and
Whereas, boards of health require local population health data for planning evidence-informed, culturally and locally appropriate health services and programs, and
Whereas, addressing child and youth health and well-being is a priority across multiple sectors, including education and health, and
Whereas, Ontario lacks a single coordinated system for the monitoring and assessment of child and youth health and well-being, and
Whereas, there is insufficient data on child and youth health and well-being at the local, regional and provincial level, and
Whereas, the Children Count Pilot Study Project, Healthy Living Module is a feasible approach to fulfill local, regional and provincial population health data gaps for children and youth, and
Now therefore be it resolved that the Windsor-Essex County Board of Health receives and endorses the Healthy Living Module, and
FURTHER THAT, the Windsor-Essex County Board of Health encourage the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education to adopt the Healthy Living Module as part of the Ontario Public Health Standards and the Ontario School Climate Survey.
- Children Count Task Force. (2019). Children Count: Task Force Recommendations. Windsor, ON: Windsor-Essex County Health Unit.
- Office of the Auditor General (2017). Annual Report 2017. Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.
- Ministry of Education. (2019). The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8: Health and Physical Education.
- Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. (2018). Ontario Public Health Standards: Requirements for Programs, Services, and Accountability. Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.
- Population Health Assessment LDCP Team (2017). Children Count: Assessing Child and youth Surveillance Gaps for Ontario Public Health Units. Windsor, ON: Windsor-Essex County Health Unit
- Toronto Public Health. (2015). Healthy Futures: 2014 Toronto Public Health Student Survey. Toronto: Toronto Public Health