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Promoting early childhood development in Manitoba: Centres de la petite enfance et de la famille

Paul McArthur
Healthy Child Manitoba
Government of Manitoba


It is widely recognized by experts that early childhood is the most critical period of development throughout the lifecourse.1 Children's experiences throughout this period exact a differentially large impact on their future health and well‑being, and get "under the skin," affecting the architecture of children's developing brains.2 Because of the high potential impact of this developmental "window of opportunity," early childhood programming has shown as high as a 17‑fold return on investment.3 Making sure that children are developing in the most positive, supportive and engaging environments possible throughout this period is therefore a key priority not only for parents and families, but also for society at large.

For francophone families, having opportunities to promote early childhood development (ECD) in French is a natural priority. Research from Manitoba supports that learning in French‑language environments in early childhood is critical for the development of francophone identity, language acquisition, and the flourishing of language skills throughout the lifecourse.4

Manitoba's francophone community has a rich heritage of promoting and supporting ECD, formally beginning in 1976 with the foundation of the Fédération provinciale des comités de parents (FPCP) and "mini‑franco‑fun." In 1979, the community was at the centre of the national mobilization around francophone ECD, taking leadership in the creation of the Commission nationale des parents francophones. Over the decades, the FPCP has pursued partnerships to promote and support ECD.

Knowledge and evidence supporting the critical nature of providing early childhood services in French to francophone children and families continues to expand and to be integrated into practice, and Manitoba's francophone community remains a strong player at the forefront of these efforts.

The francophone early childhood hubs called "Centres de la petite enfance et de la famille" (CPEF) are Manitoba's flagship model for integrating research and best practices into the community setting to promote optimal ECD. The CPEFs provide a comprehensive continuum of integrated services and resources for francophone parents of children (prenatal to 6 years) in schools across Manitoba. Programs and services such as Healthy Baby programs, literacy and learning programs, and referrals to specialized resources are offered through these school‑based centres in French, providing a "one‑stop‑shop" for francophone families and their children. Resources for francophone and exogamous families include a lending library of toys, books, music and games, as well as parenting courses, drop‑in play time and more. There is a core set of deliverables coordinated through the CPEF Steering Committee, and each CPEF adds resources based on community needs (e.g. cooking classes, breastfeeding support, support for refugee families). Relevant provincial government programming such as the Towards Flourishing mental health promotion training curriculum is offered in conjunction with the centres, contributing to the holistic complement of services provided.

The CPEFs also facilitate the connection between parents and families in the community and the schools. This connection in turn prepares children, families and schools, and eases children's transition into the formal education system. The success in developing and implementing CPEFs is a tribute to the strong partnerships established between government, francophone organizations, and the community to build and sustain momentum.

The development of the CPEF model in Manitoba began in fall 2000, when the FPCP [now named the Fédération des parents du Manitoba (FPM)] and the Franco‑Manitoban School Division (DSFM) formed a partnership to fully integrate quality early childhood services into francophone schools. The Healthy Child Committee of Cabinet, appointed by Manitoba's premier as Canada's first and only legislated cabinet committee dedicated to children and youth, supported the establishment of the CPEF model in 2001.

The Coalition francophone de la petite enfance du Manitoba Steering Committee, with representation from the DSFM, the FPM, the Société franco‑manitobaine, and Healthy Child Manitoba, coordinates the implementation of the model in school‑based centres across Manitoba.

Supported by subcommittees of government and community partners, the CPEF Steering Committee takes a multidisciplinary focus on the key areas of literacy/numeracy, parent education and awareness, early identification and intervention, multidisciplinary services support for exogamous families, research, linguistic and cultural supports, and professional training.

The CPEFs benefit from provincial, federal and community partnerships, and have been supported through matched funding by the Province of Manitoba and the federal government through the Canada‑Manitoba Agreement on the Promotion of Official Languages since 2004.

As of late 2013, there are twelve CPEFs and two satellite locations in communities across Manitoba. The centres are valued and celebrated by the community, and work continues towards the goal of developing centres in every school across the province. The implementation of the CPEFs has corresponded with improvements in child development outcomes and readiness for school in francophone children, as assessed by the Early Development Instrument, a widely implemented survey that assesses child development in kindergarten to determine community‑level school readiness.

Along with government partners, Manitoba's francophone community continues to build on its positive momentum in ECD. Conducting research and evaluation, integrating it into practice, and implementing policy and programming all in French is fundamental to Manitoba's strategy to provide the brightest futures possible for francophone children and their families.


Back to the note1 McCain, M.N., Mustard, J.F., & McCuaig, K. (2011). Early Years Study 3: Making Decisions, Taking Action. Toronto: Margaret & Wallace McCain Family Foundation.

Back to the note2 Hertzman, C., Boyce, T. (2009). How Experience Gets Under the Skin to Create Gradients in Developmental Health. Annual Review of Public Health. Vol. 31, pp. 329‑347

Back to the note3 Engle, P.L., et al. (2011). Strategies for reducing inequalities and improving developmental outcomes for young children in low‑income and middle‑income countries. The Lancet. Vol. 378(9799), pp. 1339‑53.

Back to the note4 Chartier, M., Dumaine, J., Sabourin, E. (2011). Vivre en français pendant la petite enfance et apprendre à l'école française : y‑a‑t‑il un lien? Cahiers franco‑canadiens de l'ouest. Vol. 23 (1‑2), pp. 3‑61.