Jenae Gauthier

“The more research we do, the more we realize just how critical the early years are for establishing a foundation of physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.”

Evaluation capacity building for improved early childhood practices, programs and policies

Early experiences and environments play a critical role in healthy childhood development. Consequently, high-quality early childhood programs lay the foundation for the social-emotional and physical well-being of adult Canadians. Despite significant investments in early childhood programs, indicators reveal shortfalls in child development in Canada. Evaluation is a systematic process of generating informative evidence for program improvement. With evaluation, we can gather data that can be used to create stronger, more sustainable initiatives that will improve the lives of children and families across Canada.

The Evaluation Capacity Network (ECN) is a research partnership that seeks to build evaluation capacity in the early childhood field. The ECN offers experiential learning courses that connect students to community organizations to co-create evaluation plans. These courses provide students with hands-on experience in evaluation, while community stakeholders receive a ready-to-implement evaluation plan for their program. A major challenge is the capacity of organizations to implement these evaluation plans; highlighting a gap in evaluation use and influence.

Through this project, we will work with one organization—the Alberta Vulnerable Infant Response Team—to implement their evaluation plan, which will include developing data collection tools, collecting and analyzing data, as well as providing recommendations for improved programming. For organizations that have implemented their evaluation plans, we will explore the use and influence of the evaluation knowledge and skills developed through the courses, and the ways it has impacted early childhood practice, programs and policy. This will be accomplished through a survey of past participating organizations and interviews with key informants. Findings from this project will inform experiential learning strategies to bridge the evaluation use and influence gap after these courses are completed.

Jenae Gauthier was supervised by Rebecca Gokiert and her summer studentship was funded by the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation. She is enrolled in the Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program.