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A Concordia-backed community-institutional partnership seeks to better meet the needs of Black families in Montreal

The SHIFT Centre and child studies professor Diane Pesco are supporting the initiative aimed at reducing the rate of families reported to youth protection
May 16, 2023

Young children sitting around a table and drawing with crayons. Concordia’s SHIFT Centre for Social Transformation is helping to fund the new Alliance for Community Adaptation.

Staff at the Montreal West Island CIUSSS (Integrated University Health and Social Services Centre) recently recognized a need to better serve Black families within their territory, which ranges from LaSalle all the way to Sainte-Anne de Bellevue.

To do so, they came to the African Canadian Development and Prevention Network (ACDPN) to reach families in the English-speaking Black community.

That led to the creation of the Alliance for Community Adaptation (ACA) — an innovative partnership that brings community expertise to a government institution. The focus of the alliance is to ensure that existing programs at the CIUSSS are culturally adapted to the English-speaking Black communities they work with to improve outcomes for families.

Concordia’s SHIFT Centre for Social Transformation has brought its support to this partnership through its funding and in-kind support programs. A collaboration between Concordia’s Child Studies program, ACDPN and the CIUSSS West-Central Montreal, the SHIFT-funded project is allowing ACA to build a toolkit and create resources for the families of children who have a speech or language delay.

“ACA was created to support English-speaking Black families who are involved with youth protection,” explains Ushana Houston, BA 20, director of strategy and communications with the ACDPN.

“Many of these families are facing structural barriers caused by poverty and racism. We are there to accompany them on this journey, so that they don’t have to navigate it alone.”

This multi-targeted approach encourages the building of trust between the families and the institution so that each family can access and benefit from the support and services they need.

The goal of this work is to reduce the length of time that families are involved with youth protection and to ensure that families get the support they need through community resources whenever possible.

Smiling women sitting in a room at several long tables and facing the front with one woman in the foreground raising her hand. “Many of these families are facing structural barriers. We are there to accompany them.” | Photo: Marta Mostardini

A cultural bridge

“Using a supportive rather than a punitive approach, we are working with children at a young age to ensure that developmental issues, including language development, do not turn into behavioural problems later on,” says Amanda Ruggles, BFA 08, MA 21, ACDPN’s community liaison.

Diane Pesco, associate professor of child studies in Concordia's Department of Education, is supporting the SHIFT project by grounding it in evidence-based research. She is also a language specialist who takes a holistic, strength-based approach to language and speech acquisition in children and has studied how speech affects a child’s life.

“There is evidence of cross-cultural differences in how adults teach and how children prefer to or are expected to learn. Similarly, there are cross-cultural differences in how adults and children interact with one another,” Pesco notes.

“If a child is exposed to one set of beliefs, values and practices at home and to a quite different set at school, then the child could be seen as misbehaving, inattentive or even incompetent at school. In fact, they are following the cultural practices that they are accustomed to at home and in their community.”

By working with Pesco, one ACDPN staff member and several paid Concordia interns, the ACA project team is creating resources for families to help build a cultural bridge between Black families living in the western part of the island of Montreal and the CIUSSS.

By culturally and linguistically adapting the programming, and providing culturally adapted resources, they hope to reach their goal of reducing the rate of Black English-speaking children being reported to youth protection.

“We appreciate Concordia for understanding what it takes to make social change,” Ruggles says. “It is hard work to change the system. Until the system starts changing, we can count on SHIFT for support.”

Are you working on a
community-driven project that is tackling injustice, inequity or unsustainability in Montreal? Learn more about SHIFT funding and support programs.



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