Jessica Ball, School of Child and Youth Care, University of Victoria, Canada

Investments to strengthen community and professional capacity to advocate, plan, innovative and operate programs and services for children and families are a priority in many countries. In Canada, Aboriginal capacity building efforts are yielding some increase in the numbers of First Nations, Inuit and Métis adults qualified in the fields of early childhood education, supported child development for children with special needs, youth outreach, and family support. There remains a critical shortage of members of marginalized communities – for example Indigenous, ethnolinguistic minority, and poor communities - to participate in designing and delivering health, education, social development programs. This is partly a reflection of a critical shortage of accredited, in-country training programs that are effective in recruiting, retaining, and graduating trainees from these less affluent and more socially excluded communities. Several initiatives within the Early Childhood Development Intercultural Partnerships Program are aimed at supporting the development of practitioner capacity at every level – from workshops for parents and paraprofessional to post-graduate courses to develop leadership capacity in early childhood and child and youth service sectors. Projects to date have spanned several continents – most recently Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Greenland, and Canada.

Successful capacity building initiatives demonstrate the need for extraordinary ingenuity, flexibility, deployment of resources, and persistence in the manner in which training is delivered and the content of training curricula. Most importantly, education and training must be shown to address community-identified goals for development, harness and build upon local resources, and incorporate local funds of knowledge and ways of life in order to yield sustainable capacity to meet local needs and goals.

First Nations Partnerships Program: Success Story

The First Nations Partnerships Program at the University of Victoria's School of Child and Youth Care is one such success story. Initiated by the Meadow Lake Tribal Council of Saskatchewan, the program became the first in Canada to deliver two years of university accredited education in Indigenous communities and involving cultural Elders in those communities to co-generate the training curricula. To date the program has involved 10 partnerships and 151 Indigenous students from 57 First Nations. The program's unprecedented success has been recognized with awards. In 2002, UNESCO selected the First Nations Partnership Programs as one of 20 'best practices' across disciplines from around the world that incorporate Indigenous knowledge. Research evaluations of this innovative program have yielded new knowledge about how to support participation post-secondary education and promote community capacity for development of child and family services.

From Professional Development to Promising Practices

A follow-up study found significant positive change in three of the groups of First Nations communities four years after program completion. Nearly all graduates were employed in child and family serving agencies or schools in their home communities. Goals had been achieved for providing community-based services for children and families, drawing upon cultural traditions as well as knowledge from western science. A comprehensive report entitled Hook and Hub (see Reports page) has informed several new federal and provincial initiatives in Indigenous learning, child care, and advocacy for integrated and coordinated service delivery to children and families.

Determinants of program success shown in evaluation research

Community-based delivery

Face-to-face education without leaving home

Generative Curriculum Model

Incorporation of Indigenous Knowledge alongside university-based curricula

Recruiting emerging leaders

Involving community-identified leaders with recognized skills in promoting child well-being

Cohort engagement

Social support, cultural safety, regional networking

Flexible scheduling

Accommodating cultural and harvesting cycles

Laddered credential sequence

Incremental professional development and credentials through articulated, accredited courses

ECDIP Publications, Presentations and Reports

Ball, J., & Wangchuk, K.C. (2014). Development of an early childhood care and development sector in Bhutan: Protection of language and culture through a national policy of Gross National Happiness. Global Education Review (in press). (536 KB)

Wyatt, T. R. (2014). Teaching across the lines: Adapting scripted programs with Culturally Relevant/Responsive Teaching. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 22(3), p. 447-469. (10.5 MB)

Wyatt, T. R. & Lyberth, N. (2011) Addressing systematic oppression in Greenland's schools: The adaptation of a coaching model, Journal of Equity & Excellence in Education, 44 (2), p. 221-232. (5.2 MB)

Ball, J. & Pence, A. (2006). Supporting Indigenous Children's Development: Community-University Partnerships. Vancouver: UBC Press.

  • This book challenges and offers an alternative to the imposition of best practices on communities by outside specialists. It tells the story of an unexpected partnership initiated by an Aboriginal tribal council with the University of Victoria's School of Child and Youth Care. The partnership produced a new approach to professional education in which community leaders are co-constructors of the curriculum and implementation proceeded only if both parties are present and engaged. News of this "generative curriculum" spread to numerous Aboriginal communities and over sixty Indigenous communities participated in the First Nations Partnerships Program. The book describes how this innovative program strengthened community capacity to design, deliver, and evaluate culturally appropriate programs to support young children's development.
  • For more information and to order, go to the UBC Press website by clicking here.
  • Visit for more information about the First Nations Partnerships Program. Stories of the 10 partnership programs are told in a booklet: Our Children Are Our Future and in extensive print materials, five video documentaries, book chapters and journal articles -available by request to Jessica Ball,

Ball, J. & McIvor, O. (2005) Learning and teaching as if communities mattered. Workshop presented at the World Indigenous People’s Conference on Education, Hamilton, Aotearoa/ New Zealand, November. (248 KB)

Ball, J., Pence, A., Pierre, M. & Kuehne, V. (2002). Intergenerational teaching and learning in Canadian First Nations Partnership Programs. In M. Kaplan, N. Henkin & A. Kusano (Eds.), Linking lifetimes: A global view of intergenerational exchange (pp. 83-100). New York, NY: United Press of America, Inc. (1.3 MB)

Ball, J. & Pence, A. (2001). Training in First Nations communities: Five “secrets” of success. Interaction 15(1): 19-24. (519 KB)

Ball, J. & Pence, A.R. (1999). Beyond developmentally appropriate practice: Developing community and culturally appropriate practice. Young Children March: 46-50. (15 MB)