Connections First

Alberta Mentors AMP

An Alberta led initiative focused on understanding how natural supports can influence well-being among children in their middle years.

An infographic is a great way to introduce the “why” and “what” of the project. The intent of this infographic is that it be used as a quick means of assimilating some of the evidence and data that was collected over the past couple years and essentially set the context and build the case for why change is needed. It’s also meant to be a quick reference of how children and families feel about their current situations, and provide some impetus for individuals and community members to address the gaps.

The Project

Children and youth in Alberta face challenges on a near daily basis. Whether they are exposed to violence, substance abuse issues around them, poverty, mental health problems or others, all of these experiences, on their own or together make it difficult for children and youth to achieve their potential. Having friends, mentors or family who can provide a dependable base and sense of belonging can have an enormous empowering effect for children in their middle years; particularly those between the ages of 6 to 16. It can make all the difference. We decided to call this project “Connections First” because we know that people turn to those in their community, whether that be family, friends, colleagues, or acquaintances, when they need support. It’s really the bedrock of who we are.

With this in mind, The Burns Memorial Fund and The Max Bell Foundation came together and decided to commit funding for the Max Bell Foundation/Burns Memorial Fund Policy Fellowship for a period of two years. These two Calgary-based funders sought experienced, community- oriented public policy experts who could make a material contribution to provincial public policy development in order to improve outcomes for children and youth.

The work of the Policy Fellowship will be to find solutions that will lead to workable policy and practice options that can improve the lives of children throughout their middle years. Upon completion of the two year project, the work of the policy fellows will:

(a) define how resilience, permanence and continuity of care are associated with family-focused, community-based natural supports;

(b) identify the barriers and facilitators to retention of families in programs, and the impacts on permanence and continuity for vulnerable children and youth; and

(c) mobilize resilience-related understanding with stakeholders to achieve public policy impacts across Alberta.

Connections First Objective

The objective of Max Bell Foundation/Burns Memorial Fund Policy Fellowship (The Connections First Project) is to identify policy opportunities to enhance natural supports for Albertan children 6 - 16 years of age and their families to enhance well-being and optimize positive lifelong development.

Natural supports include both formal and informal reciprocal relationships and associations that enhance quality of life. They can mitigate negative influences and events, such as adverse childhood experiences, through skill development, companionship, and role modelling.

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A copy of the Connections First Project Overview is available below to view and download.

What are Natural Supports?

Natural supports are mutual relationships that include close connections, such as family and friends, and broader connections, such as neighbours and coaches. Natural supports can lessen the effects of stress and difficult experiences by providing opportunities for learning, as well as receiving encouragement and advice. These connections have been shown to be key for children and youth because they can counteract adverse home, school or community environments.

Supportive people and surroundings enable children and youth to develop skills, including communication, self-esteem, coping, and decision-making. These skills empower them to create naturally supportive and healthy relationships to promote well-being and success in life.

Research has shown that the most common factor among resilient children is the presence of at least one stable and supportive relationship with a caregiver or other dedicated adult. Therefore, not only do these connections improve well-being for children, they provide a mechanism for caregivers, teachers, coaches, etc. to better support children and youth.