Vulnerable children and youth in Alberta face challenges on a near daily basis. Whether they are exposed to violence, substance abuse issues around them, poverty, mental health problems or others, all of these experiences, on their own or together make it difficult for children and youth to achieve their potential. Having friends, mentors or family who can provide a dependable base and sense of belonging can have an enormous empowering effect on vulnerable children and youth. It can make all the difference. We decided to call this project “Connections First” because we know that people turn to those in their community, whether that be family, friends, colleagues, or acquaintances, when they need support. It’s really the bedrock of who we are.

With this in mind, The Burns Memorial Fund and The Max Bell Foundation came together and decided to commit funding for the Max Bell Foundation/Burns Memorial Fund Policy Fellowship for a period of two years. These two Calgary-based funders sought experienced, community- oriented public policy experts who could make a material contribution to provincial public policy development in order to improve outcomes for vulnerable children and youth.

The work of the Policy Fellowship will be to find solutions that will lead to workable policy and practice options that can improve the lives of vulnerable children and youth. Upon completion of the two year project, the work of the policy fellows will:

(a) define how resilience, permanence and continuity of care are associated with family-focused, community-based natural supports;

(b) identify the barriers and facilitators to retention of families in programs, and the impacts on permanence and continuity for vulnerable children and youth; and

(c) mobilize resilience-related understanding with stakeholders to achieve public policy impacts across Alberta.

“Quality of life actually begins at home - it’s in your street, around your community.”
— Charles Kennedy, British Member of Parliament

What We've Achieved

  • Connected with over 50 different agencies and organizations across Alberta.

  • Established an advisory committee of leaders with expertise of vulnerable children and youth to provide expert advice to the project.

  • Conducted in-depth rapid review research into existing natural supports practices and programs across Canada and globally.

  • Mapped successful initiatives onto the Family and Community Support Services Provincial Priorities Framework.

  • Prepared an environmental scan to to validate rapid review and framework findings with professionals already working in communities.

  • Created and have begun implementing a provincial engagement strategy to gather feedback and inout to policy recommendations.

  • Presented research findings to numerous academic conferences and community meetings.

  • Built and enhanced strategic relationships with organizations like the Government of Alberta, school boards, Alberta Health Services, Alberta Courts, community based organizations, first nation communities, but perhaps most importantly, families and youth themselves.