Kids' Program at Risk

November 27, 2003, vol. 28, no. 7
By Carol Thorbes

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After proving to be a powerful stepping stone to kindergarten for at-risk preschoolers, the original foundation of the home instruction for parents of preschool youngsters program (HIPPY) in Canada is struggling to stay alive.

Simon Fraser University's community education program in continuing studies, the Britannia community service centre and the National Council of Jewish Women of Canada founded HIPPY Vancouver four years ago.

They failed earlier this year to obtain adequate funding for continuation of the program's level of service.

The founders originally secured $400,000, a one-time federal grant, to get HIPPY Vancouver started as a pilot project.

Another $600,000 from 10 major federal, non-profit and private sponsors, and $75,000 from the provincial government helped Canada's first site for the internationally based program flourish.

To keep the funds flowing once its original sources started drying up, SFU community education program director Debbie Bell and HIPPY Vancouver coordinator Wazi Kapenda phoned, faxed and cajoled other potential funders.

“We've had little response. There is a big appetite among governments and foundations to provide start up money, but no appetite to provide sustained funding,” says Bell.

HIPPY Vancouver's founders are keeping a severely downsized version of the program going with $50,000 from Windows of Opportunity, a provincially funded program that helps poor and isolated families, some leftover money from the original funding and a small grant from a foundation.

But Kapenda says that enables HIPPY Vancouver to serve only 75 of the more than 150 children it was helping before its initial funding ended.

All of the program's staff, all women with children including six home visitors, has been cut back to half-time work.

Sixty new children are on a waiting list to get into the highly successful internationally based program, which trains home visitors to help parents prepare their three- to five-year-olds for kindergarten.

Home visitors help parents teach their children important school readiness skills - cognitive, social and emotional.

The program targets families, who for cultural, domestic and economic reasons, are not able to access government subsidized centre-based pre-schooling programs.

Three recent studies demonstrate that the HIPPY program helps pre-schoolers in disadvantaged families do as well as, if not even better than, other pre-schoolers.

The mounting evidence that HIPPY Vancouver is making a difference has made Kapenda's job of advising families that they are cut from the program all the more heartbreaking.

“The funding we now receive is to help parents within a very specific area of east Vancouver. So families outside of that area, who were previously helped, have been cut off,” says Kapenda. “The news is really hard on the parents of 60 children who just started kindergarten.”

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