Rethinking early intervention therapy with Indigenous communities and families in northern British Columbia

Early intervention therapy (EIT) programs for children with developmental challenges and disabilities have been shown to be highly beneficial for young children (0-5 years) in the wider Canadian population. However, EIT programs are consistently significantly under-utilized by Indigenous communities and families. Indigenous parents and community stakeholder perspectives on EIT are largely absent in current literature, and Indigenous communities are often not consulted on how these programs are delivered. 

Dr. Gerlach’s research will generate new knowledge aimed at improving the health, development, and quality of life of Indigenous children with developmental challenges and disabilities. The research will take place in northern BC, where there are a large number of rural/remote First Nations and urban Indigenous communities. This study builds on Dr. Gerlach’s extensive experience working with Indigenous communities, organizations, and families as an early intervention occupational therapist and community researcher. The methodology has been developed in close collaboration with research impact partners, including community stakeholders, the First Nations Health Authority, the Ministry of Children & Family Development, and child development centers in the northern region. 

A local Indigenous advisory circle will be formed to guide the research process, and sources such as policy documents and interviews with key policy stakeholders will provide insight into how funding, policy, and organizational factors influence Indigenous parents and children’s access to and use of EIT services. The results of Dr. Gerlach’s research will inform the creation of EIT practices and policies that are responsive to the realities, strengths, and needs of Indigenous families and children living in rural and remote communities in northern BC. The findings will also be shared with a wide audience through community forums, policy briefs, and publications.

This research has national and international relevance at practice and policy levels. BC has an opportunity to take a leadership role in this emerging field of research and in the implementation of Jordan’s Principle, which is focused on achieving health equity for all Indigenous children regardless of where they live.