Evidence for Better Systems

Principal Investigator: Laura Templeton and Laurie Schnirer
Funding: City of Edmonton, Edmonton Community Foundation, United Way of the Alberta Capital Region
Duration: 2015 - 2016

Despite a federal commitment to end child poverty by the year 2000, the percentage of children living in poverty in Alberta remains unchanged. Similar to 1989 estimates, 16% of Alberta's children live in low­ income households. However, since Alberta's population has experienced tremendous growth in the past 25 years, this estimate means that approximately 29,000 more children are living in poverty today compared to 1989.

In March 2014, Mayor Don lveson formed a Task Force to develop a plan to end poverty in Edmonton. Supporting the work of the Task Force are seven working groups that are focused on making recommendations in key areas: Early Childhood Development; Education; Community Well-being; Housing and Transportation; Economic Security; Health and Wellness; and Justice and Democratic Participation.

The recommendations to be presented to the Task Force will be general in nature, pointing to broad classes of policies and action that must be addressed. Over the next several months the challenge for the Task Force and City staff will be to coordinate and refine the recommendations and to prepare specific and targeted plans for implementation. The Task Force and City will have to make decisions about what to target and how to proceed. This work will require extensive information about the barriers and difficulties experienced by low-income families. Working groups and the Task Force will attempt to gain some of this information through an engagement process with "key stakeholders," but this process will be based primarily on targeted but unsystematic interviews. Ideally this engagement process would be supplemented with detailed and systematic interviews with a broad sample of low­-income families. Attempting to collect such information in all of the areas being explored by the Task Force would be expensive and time consuming. There is however, an opportunity for the Task Force to explore a wide variety of topics using an already existing data source.

The "Evidence for Better Systems" project will mine already existing data from a rich and relevant dataset obtained in a relatively recent study of low-income families with children in Edmonton. The team that will conduct these analyses will consist of people with expertise in data analysis, poverty-reduction programs, and government policies and practices. This project will enable the Task Force to optimize the recommendations from the working groups and provide the City with the critical information it needs to develop specific implementation plans based on those recommendations.

Over 1,200 families participated in Families First Edmonton (FFE), a community-based research project that collected information between 2006 and 2011 on low-income families with young children (<12 years at the beginning of the study) living in Edmonton. Approximately 850 families who participated in FFE were paired with community support workers (CSWs). CSWs were tasked with connecting families to existing recreation, health, and social services. During face-to-face visits with the families, CSWs completed a Needs Assessment Checklist that was used in the development of Individual Progress Plans (IPPs). IPPs detailed the short, mid, and long-term goals of each family in the following areas: Basic Needs (Food Security, Housing, Transportation, etc.), Health, Social Support, Family Well-being, Education, Community Engagement, Belonging and Purpose, and Children's Recreation lifestyle.

Each family worked with CSWs on their IPPs for 18-24 months. During this time CSWs recorded their interactions in the HULL Outcome Monitoring and Evaluation System (HOMES). As a result, the HOMES dataset contains over 70,000 caseworker notes that detail the daily hardships families with low income encounter and the experiences of these families as they attempt to navigate existing social and health services within the City of Edmonton.

This information will provide Task Force members with a rare examination into lived experiences of poverty within the city. These data afford a valuable opportunity to see how programs that were designed to support low-income families actually play out on the ground and how systemic barriers could be alleviated or avoided.

Please visit End Poverty Edmonton for more information