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We have all heard the line about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. When applied to the health of Canada’s children and youth, this means that to make a difference, we must all work together: children, parents, physicians, caregivers, educators, social service providers, business, government and more. Our current climate of cutbacks to health, social supports and education only reinforces the need to share our resources in new ways. The challenge is for people who work with children and youth to begin to see one another as partners and co-advocates.
From June 24 to 28, we saw the culmination of just such a partnership, when over 800 people from a variety of backgrounds met in Hamilton, Ontario for an innovative conference and health fair called Together for Healthy Kids. The event resulted from a collaboration between the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS), a national organization celebrating its 75th anniversary, and the Ontario Prevention Clearinghouse (OPC), a nonprofit organization with a 12-year track record in health promotion and public policy for children and youth. OPC was looking for a co-host for its 8th Prevention Congress, and the two organizations decided to hold a conference, followed by a health fair, and invite the widest possible cross-section of people who care about kids.
The conference showcased examples of innovative partnerships from across Canada, along with traditional high quality scientific sessions on paediatric and adolescent health. Presentations and workshops gave examples of joint ventures, from the scientific to the grassroots, drawing on a growing body of knowledge in the area of effective collaboration. Dr David Suzuki, acclaimed environmentalist, geneticist and journalist, gave the keynote address on the relationship between healthy children and youth, and our natural environment. Other plenary sessions featured Dr Fraser Mustard speaking on early childhood brain research and Dr Harriet MacMillan on community action to prevent child abuse. Leaders from health, education, government and the voluntary sector focused on innovative ideas about how to prevent low birthweight babies, create wrap-around services, and work with schools and businesses as partners in communities. Youth also had a voice at this conference, with workshops on the Internet, self-esteem and mentoring programs. Throughout, the focus was on collective action at the grassroots level.
The conference included a family health fair, attended by families from Hamilton and surrounding area that featured games, information and entertainment with a health theme. In addition to talks by health experts on such popular topics as how to handle a picky eater and how to deal with childhood asthma, families were treated to a lunchtime concert by Canadian singer and storyteller Fred Penner. Organized by the two host organizations and various groups from the Hamilton area, the health fair was another example of effective coalition and partnership building at the local level.
Together for Healthy Kids began as an experiment between two very different organizations: one representing 2000 paediatricians and that is an active voice for the health of children and youth, and the other a catalyst and organizer of community-based initiatives and health promotion resources. Over the past 18 months, this fledgling partnership gave birth to a remarkable conference. No doubt, this is only the beginning of what could become a blueprint for greater collective action for children and youth into the next century.