By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
Later this year, Durham Region’s Health Neighbourhoods program will see the largest update since its launch in January 2015.
“We are hoping the 2016 census data will be available soon,” says Mary-Anne Pietrusiak, an epidemiologist involved with the program. “It will provide us with the population counts we need to update a lot of indicators.”
Through Health Neighbourhoods, the region’s health department has established the seven lowest-income neighborhoods as “priorities.”
These include five in Oshawa – Downtown Oshawa. Lakeview, Gibb West, Beatrice North and Central Park.
Neighbourhoods receive monitoring on 80 key indicators including education and income levels, early age development, chronic and infectious disease rates and smoking rates.
The indicators currently available through the program use data from the 2011 census.
With the amount of growth in Durham since that time, Pietrusiak expects to see some different pictures painted with the next update.
“I think in some neighborhoods we are going to see a fair bit of change,” she says. “There has been a lot of growth happening in Oshawa that traditionally hasn’t happened.”
In the downtown core, Pietrusiak says an influx of younger adults and the presence of UOIT’s Bond Street campus has brought about improvements in that neighborhood.
Despite somewhat outdated data, she believes there’s been encouraging progress so far.
“I think that has been the whole reason for identifying priority neighborhoods; we need an impetus for change,” Pietrusiak says. “That change had to be through the residents themselves, the municipalities and the schools, everybody coming together.”
The latest update to Health Neighbourhoods came in December 2017.
A newly added indicator was early childhood development data (EDI), such as the physical well-being and emotional maturity of senior kindergarten-aged children.
Taryn Eickmeier, a data analysis coordinator with Durham Region children’s services, says the province mandates all school boards to participate in EDI data collection from senior kindergarten teachers.
In the past, it was clear many children in priority neighborhoods were in a vulnerable situation.
“There is scientific evidence that children who live in poverty are less likely to achieve their best,” Eickmeier states. “If you provide opportunities, there is an opportunity to strengthen their chance to succeed.”
Since February 2016, the number of vulnerable children in Downtown Oshawa has declined from 65 per cent to 35 per cent, while in Lakeview, the number dropped from 55 per cent to 41 per cent.
Nonetheless, Pietrusiak says it’s not conclusive they can attribute the improvements to any specific programs.
“We’d like to think that. But there are also changes in the demographics and it can just be a change between one cohort [of students] and another,” she notes.
Pietrusiak says she has made more than 90 presentations on Health Neighbourhoods since 2013, and local organizations use the data extensively when developing programming or applying for grants.
“It’s a very, very valuable tool. It breaks down silos and opens people’s eyes to look at things in different ways,” she notes.