Large-scale Program for Improving Children's Life Chances
Children on Bornholm more frequently grow up with a vulnerable family background than children in Denmark overall. Bornholm Regional Municipality, with support from the Egmont Foundation, has initiated the program “De Små Børns Bornholm” (The Small Children’s Bornholm) – a large-scale initiative to restructure efforts and enhance collaboration internally and externally to provide focused support to children and families in the early years. The ambition is to give all children on the island the best possible life chances and a solid foundation for further learning, development, and well-being.
SUS is a partner in ‘De Små Børns Bornholm’. We contribute to building the overall program organization and participate in planning and implementing a variety of activities under the program’s four tracks. We contribute to facilitating selected internal municipal restructuring processes and strengthening citizen involvement, innovation expertise, and co-creation across stakeholders.
SUS also contributes to disseminating the program’s results through knowledge exchange, presentations, etc., to inspire beyond the Bornholm context and provide the basis for developing similar initiatives elsewhere.
Children's Life Chances in Focus
The fact that children on Bornholm more frequently grow up with a vulnerable family background than children in Denmark overall leaves a mark throughout life, from language acquisition in the early years to opportunities for employment and education later on.
This is a brief and somewhat simplified description of the issue that Bornholm has been grappling with for several years. Therefore, Bornholm Regional Municipality decided back in 2018 to tread new paths to address this complex challenge. Or rather: to find new approaches and solutions that, collectively, could help untangle the issues on the island and thereby provide all Bornholm children with better and more equal life chances.
But how do you actually approach such a comprehensive process of change? Is it wishful thinking, or can uplifting an entire island’s families actually be done? What does it require – from the municipality’s employees, politicians, families, or the rest of the island?
Exactly these questions were among those that needed to be asked when the project began. First, a pre-project was launched. It mapped and investigated the issues – including listening to those it concerns, both families and professionals.
On this new knowledge foundation, an ambitious and large-scale multi-year large-scale initiative was subsequently launched – with the aim of restructuring efforts and intensifying collaboration internally and externally to provide focused support to children and families in the early years of Bornholm’s children. For creating better life chances for people, it is well-documented that early intervention plays a crucial role.
The Entire Child Sector Engaged
In the three years that the program has been running, employees and leaders across disciplines, specialties, municipal institutions, and civil society in the child sector on the island have worked together. A bouquet of new initiatives and measures – some resting on already developed interventions that have proven effective, and others developed and tested through experimental and learning trial actions – has created the essential foundation for change. A process of change that has involved professionals throughout the child sector: child care centers, day care, health nurses, inclusion and resource educators, PPR psychologists, speech-hearing consultants, family therapists, and advisers.
For families, this means, for example, receiving home visits from health nurses and midwives when becoming parents for the first time, and from health nurses and an educator when the child enters daycare. In this way, both parents and children receive systematic support and security right from the start. Parents can also feel secure that their child is seen by professionals – as the pedagogical staff has been strengthened in methods to help children’s language development and in identifying and acting on children in vulnerable positions in the interaction within the child group and the dialogue with parents.
Civil Society Steps In
Professionalism, skills, and coherence across the entire child sector have been significantly strengthened. At the same time, there has been a focus on creating strong transformative power in civil society with stronger local networks and meaningful communities, where people help each other and take care of the little ones in everyday life.
A new civil society alliance has been born – over 30 local civil society actors are part of the new “Bornholm Children’s Alliance.” The idea behind the alliance is to create systematic and integrated collaboration among the many civil society organizations on Bornholm and thereby create new initiatives for the youngest children.
As a result, children on the island, for example, can hear stories at the library – read by a volunteer from a social organization. Fathers of young children can meet for “baby building” with their toddlers, offered with forces across the municipality and civil society. And parents and children can be accompanied to gymnastics at the local gymnastics club through a collaboration between child care centers and the local community life to bridge the gap and lower the threshold to organized community life.
Central to the program has been an ambition to listen. Stories from families, created at the beginning of the program to gain insight and new knowledge, were so significant for both families and the system around them that a larger ‘listening project’ has become part of the program afterward.
This has included professionals and leaders being continually ready with coffee in the island’s child care facilities, inviting parents for a conversation about their lives and everyday life, and what they have in mind regarding the need for help and support.
The same has been done in interdisciplinary groups in mothers’ groups and group offerings for vulnerable pregnant women, and even showing up in the local cinema before the afternoon family film to talk to families in different settings than the municipal environment.
Professional “listening labs” were also established. With interdisciplinary participation, where reflections were made on what families have said, what it calls for, and how ongoing invitations can continue to foster a more open and interpersonal conversation across families, professionals, leaders, decision-makers, volunteers, etc., about what good Bornholm child life looks like and what each actor, individually and together, can do to help it along.
Inspiration for Others
The many initiatives, experiments, and methods are very different but are tied together by the program as a framework. It contributes to common engagement and a comprehensive infrastructure.
And it creates the basis for ongoing collection and sharing of new shared learning that points the way towards effective measures that, in the long run, will make a significant contribution to strengthening early intervention for children on Bornholm.
The approach is holistic, interdisciplinary, and inclusive. The hope is that the learning that comes out of the program can travel across the Baltic Sea and contribute to other municipalities’ efforts to create equality at child height.