Aboriginal Head Start On Reserve (AHSOR) is a program that supports activities focused on early childhood learning and development for First Nations children from birth to age six and their families.
The goal of the program is to support activities that are designed and delivered by First Nations communities to meet their unique needs and priorities.
Early life is critical to lifelong health. AHSOR focuses on early childhood development, in a culturally appropriate manner, to support the spiritual, emotional, intellectual and physical growth of a child.
AHSOR supports and encourages children in enjoying life-long learning, and supports parents, guardians and extended family members as the primary teachers.
The program also encourages parents and the broader First Nations community to play a role in planning, implementing and evaluating the AHSOR program. It builds partnerships with other community programs and services to enhance the program’s effectiveness, and encourages the best use of community resources for children, parents, families and communities.
Regional Maps of Sites – shows locations in Fraser Salish, Interior, Northern, Vancouver Coastal and Vancouver Island regions that offer support for AHSOR (Aboriginal Head Start on Reserve), FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) and MCH (Maternal and Child Health) programs.
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All AHSOR programs include six components: culture and language, education, health promotion, nutrition, social support, and parent and family involvement.
“(Culture and language) is the foundation of both individual and collective identity and its erosion can adversely affect mental health and well-being, leading to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and even suicide.”
–Social Determinants of Health (National Collaborating Centre for Aboriginal Health)
Languages are how cultures convey meaning. First Nations languages in BC have experienced a century of language repression, followed by decades of neglect. While the AHSOR program cannot undo this loss of language, its focus on culture and language - part of the health of communities - plays a positive role in a child’s development.
The culture and language component allows First Nations children to experience their cultures and learn their languages. Activities give children a sense of belonging and an identity as a First Nations person.
Education is a key social determinant of health and, especially in the early years, can have a major influence on the health and quality of an individual’s life. The history of education for First Nations people in BC (and Canada) is marked significantly by fear and pain, which has affected children, families and communities. These feelings present obvious difficulties for encouraging learning.
The education component promotes life-long learning with activities that encourage a child’s readiness to learn. Activities also focus on the physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual and social development needs of children. Community members, including Elders, are involved in helping with early literacy activities, such as printing and recognizing sounds and words.
The health promotion component encourages children and families to have a healthy lifestyle. Programming promotes physical activity, such as playground activities and traditional games. Staff promote self-care, such as helping children to brush their teeth, and encourage appropriate assessments for children (for example, vision and hearing testing). Programming also includes visits with health professionals such as nurses (for immunizations), dental hygienists, speech therapists and physicians. Parents and families are also supported with access to health professionals.
Nutrition is an important part of healthy living. Good food can improve an individual’s health and poor or inadequate food can undermine health. Good eating habits established early can lead to better health throughout life.
While food security can be an issue for some First Nations people, providing information about nutrition and healthy eating to children and their caregivers is key to long-term health.
Programming offers nutritious snacks and meals and provides children with opportunities to participate in traditional food gathering activities. Nutritionists and other health professionals provide information on healthiest choices.
Social support is an important social determinant of health. Quite simply, the support of family and community is critical in determining an individual’s health. Many First Nations people experience strong social support - whether it’s communities helping members who are suffering from an illness or tragedy, or family members at a maternity ward to support a new mother and baby.
While colonization, to some degree, has eroded the strong social supports that have always been central in the lives of First Nations, these supports can be rebuilt in our families and communities.
The social support component informs parents and guardians about the resources, services and health providers available to them to achieve a healthy and holistic lifestyle.
The parental and family involvement component recognizes and supports the role of parents and family as the primary teachers and caregivers of their children. Programming provides opportunities for participation in parent/guardian committees, monthly family dinners, children's field trips and other after hour activities. Outreach services and home visits support parental and family involvement by bringing programming into the home.
The AHSOR program will continue to deliver services to BC First Nations by supporting capacity building of community-based workers in First Nations communities, providing ongoing technical support (such as curriculum development and training and advice) to communities and expanding work with partners to improve the outcomes for First Nations children.
Healthy Children & Youth Developmenthcyd@fnha.ca