Summative Evaluation of Community Action Program for Children 2004-2009

Background and Context

The origins of the Community Action Program for Children (CAPC) can be traced to 1990 when Canada, along with 71 other nations made a commitment in the United Nations World Summit for Children to invest in the well-being of vulnerable children. In response to this commitment, the Government of Canada, in 1992, initiated Brighter Futures: Canada’s Action Plan for Children, which included the five-year, $500 million Child Development Initiative (CDI). The CDI was based on evidence that poverty, low education and unemployment had a negative impact on healthy child development.

The CDI outlined four approaches to addressing the conditions of risk for children, including: prevention, promotion, protection and partnerships. CAPC was identified as a significant part of the partnership approach and is designed based on community development principles. Inherent within the program is a strong emphasis on partnerships, community capacity- building and other health promotion strategies that influence the broader determinants of health. CAPC, the largest of the CDI programs, was announced in 1992, created in 1993 and first implemented in 1994 by Health Canada.

CAPC is a federal initiative of the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC. The program provides funding to community-based groups and coalitions to develop and deliver comprehensive, culturally-appropriate prevention and early intervention initiatives to promote the health and social development of young children (0-6 years) and their families facing conditions of risk.

CAPC is founded on the principle that communities are well positioned to recognize the needs of their children and have the capacity to draw together the resources to address those needs. CAPC projects often act as an entry point where families, that are geographically and socially isolated, are linked to the health system and to additional supports in the broader community.

Because community needs as well as local and regional resources are unique, CAPC projects are as diverse as the regions in which they are located. Some activities include: drop-in childcare; school readiness programs for pre-schoolers; outreach and home visiting; nutritional support and collective kitchens; child development activities; cultural programs and celebrations; healthy physical activities; literacy development; and community capacity building. Currently, there are 441 CAPC projects operating in more than 3,000 communities across the country.

CAPC Objectives and Framework

The following six Guiding Principles inform program design, implementation, operations, governance and evaluation and are rooted in health promotion principles:

  1. Children First;
  2. Strengthening and Supporting Families;
  3. Equity and Accessibility;
  4. Flexibility;
  5. Partnerships and Collaboration; and
  6. Community-based Delivery.

The established objectives of CAPC are to:

  • Improve the health and social development of children and their families;
  • Increase partnerships and collaboration;
  • Increase the number of effective community resources and programs;
  • Increase recognition and support for communities at-risk, their needs, interests and rights;
  • Increase empowerment and knowledge of families and communities; and
  • Increase accessibility to culturally-appropriate and linguistically-sensitive programming.

Key Findings and Conclusions

Relevance

The evaluation reveals that CAPC remains relevant as a contribution to the strategic outcomes of both PHAC and the Government of Canada. Many threats to child and family health persist among various population groups in Canada. CAPC remains a viable mechanism in the Public Health Agency’s effort to reduce health disparities and strengthen public health, thereby contributing to more “healthy Canadians.” CAPC is also one of the means by which the Government of Canada fulfills its international commitments to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Millennium Development Goals.

Impact

Reaching Vulnerable Populations

A high proportion of families reached by CAPC are living in conditions of risk. Moreover, the majority of the parents and caregivers reached by CAPC are affected by multiple risks.

A review of 2008 CAPC participant data indicated that 54% of CAPC participants had total family incomes below the Low-Income Cut-Off (LICO) in their community, 24% were single parents, 26% had not graduated from high school and more than 13% self-identified as Aboriginal. Of those Aboriginal CAPC participants, 80% had incomes below the LICO, 52% had not completed high school and 48% were single parents.

Findings have also shown that CAPC reaches a high proportion of at-risk populations and that the proportion of vulnerable individuals represented among CAPC participants exceeds the rate at which these populations are represented in the general population. This evidence of successfully engaging a population with these characteristics is a critical finding in assessing the effectiveness of CAPC. Research has shown that early intervention is important for children growing up under such conditions as they often have higher rates of poor health, developmental difficulties, social, cognitive and behavioural problems.

Contributing to Healthy Child Development

An analysis of qualitative data collected from CAPC project participants and staff, indicates that CAPC has a positive impact on the health and social development of children.

The most frequently reported outcomes include:

  • Improved health and social development for children (48%)
  • Parental self-improvement and increased parenting knowledge and skills (50%); and
  • Enhanced community capacity (42%).

The evidence of CAPC impacts for children includes:

  • Increased social knowledge and competence;
  • Increased language and cognitive development; and
  • Improvements in behaviour and attention problems.

The evidence of CAPC impacts for parents includes:

  • improved parenting knowledge and skills;
  • Increased social support;
  • Enhanced parental empowerment;
  • Improved development of life skills; and
  • Enhanced knowledge and use of community resources. The evidence of CAPC impacts for community capacity includes:
  • Increased networking with other organizations; and
  • Increased opportunities for participant involvement.

These early impacts become more powerful when coupled with the research literature, which shows that such early childhood development initiatives can contribute in the long term to children’s general development, school readiness, educational performance and employment prospects later in life.

Implementing the Population Health Approach

CAPC projects are rooted in a population health approach to the promotion of public health. Projects demonstrate a high degree of partnership and collaboration with a wide variety of organizations. In a typical year, CAPC projects reported more than 6,600 different partnerships with an average of 17 partners per CAPC project. These partnerships are integral to the availability and quality of services provided to children and families living in conditions of risk. CAPC has a strong commitment to providing opportunities for participant involvement, which has had a positive impact on participants’ self-development. The population health approach, by targeting determinants of health, is consistent with a global emphasis on the need to increase health equity. In their efforts to acknowledge and respond to these determinants, CAPC projects have evolved a wide range of intervention strategies and partnership models relevant to their particular communities.

Cost-effectiveness

Economic modelling of CAPC demonstrates the potential cost savings and overall program impacts on the health, social and justice systems in Canada. An assessment of leading health economic literature illustrated that the potential cost savings of CAPC on select health outcomes such as: grade retention; special education; high school drop-out; community sentencing; institutional sentencing; obesity rate; and maternal depression far outweigh investment in the program.

The overall annual cost per participant for CAPC was $1,473, falling within the mid-range of the World Bank’s cost per participant in similar early childhood development programming. While affordability is an important criterion in deciding which program approach to adopt, the cheapest program is not always the best in fostering healthy child development and the most expensive programs do not always produce the best quality service. When the opportunities to develop certain abilities are missed early in life, later remediation is less effective or more costly.

National performance measurement data also illustrated that CAPC projects leverage more than $48 million in additional resources in a typical year including additional funding, volunteerism and in-kind resources from provincial/territorial, municipal and community partners.

Recommendations

Several recommendations flow from the findings of this report and will help to guide decisions on future program and evaluation planning. In particular, it is recommended that:

  1. CAPC continue monitoring threats to child health so as to inform implementation and to enable the program to adapt and respond to emerging health priorities.
  2. CAPC continue data collection to support planning, performance reporting and evaluation.
  3. CAPC undertake further study to identify most effective delivery models within the overall program design including:

    1. Review and identify core program objectives;
    2. Review and identify a typology of interventions and services; and
    3. Develop a national outcome evaluation strategy.
  4. Results of this Summative evaluation, including key findings, conclusions, and limitations of the analysis, be considered in the context of long-term decisions regarding future PHAC investments in child health.
  5. Findings on the economic benefits of early intervention and adequacy of current CAPC funding levels be considered in the context of long-term decisions regarding future PHAC investments in child health.
  6. Any future evaluation of CAPC be positioned to meet the mandate of the 2009 Treasury Board Policy on Evaluation.

To view the full report, please see Summative Evaluation of Community Action Program for Children 2004 to 2009.   For the French version of the report please click here.