A Mother’s Day Message

By Kathleen Callan

Kathleen and Bruce Callan just celebrated their 23rd anniversary. As a blended family, they have two children each from previous marriages, two boys and two girls, who are now 25 to 43-years-old, and three grandchildren. They are a proud foster family that has cared for many teens in the past five years, and are looking forward to their next experience of providing a loving home to a young person at a time of need. 

Oprah Winfrey once proclaimed that, “Biology is the least of what makes someone a mother.”

Although biology may be a component, it does not necessarily have to be. Mothers are women who embrace children to become part of their lives and live in their very souls. They nurture children –  whether their biological child; a niece; a nephew; a grandchild; a distant relative; an adopted child, a foster child, or a child who is in need and is embraced simply when paths cross.  Mothers are women who are there for us at all times when no one else will do. They nurture us through our years to help us become stronger, brighter, and happier human beings. They pick us up when we fall. They seem to know when we need them, and when we can manage on our own. They teach us values to live by even when we don’t want to listen. They are our strength when we need them most. They stand beside us when the world seems too big for us to bear. They give us strength to keep trying. They listen to all our stories with intent, no matter how silly they are. They are our rock, our confidant, our grounding, and our sanctuary.

All too often, mothers sacrifice their own desires to give us ours. Some say it is a thankless job, but as a mother myself, I beg to differ. The times I have spent with my children span the good, the bad and the really ugly, but I am thanked every time I see my children succeed. I am grateful every time I see their excitement, enthusiasm, and awe of the world. It touches my soul to hear their laughter and breaks my heart to see them cry.

Even though I know I have given them the strength to get through all of life’s ordeals, I stand by each day in case my children need me because my love for them never ends. Now I watch from a distance and I see that they have the strength, the values and the perseverance to carry on. And the cycle of life repeats itself as I can see the values I instilled in my children built upon with their own children.

So, when we celebrate Mother’s Day, remember we are celebrating all those moms who have touched the hearts of children, and have helped them, or are helping them, to grow and become adults with aspirations, hopes and the will to succeed at whatever they set out to do.

So from one mom to many others “Happy Mother’s Day”!

“These two snowmobile daredevils are my granddaughter and me!
We love spending time together as a family. We had a blast that day in the snow at our cottage!”  -Kathleen Callan

Read more about the Callan family.

Celebrating the Vibrant Lives of Families Video 

Families are central to the positive development and success of children and youth and are at the heart of thriving communities. Three Halton families shared stories of challenges, successes and love in this special video. The Callans and their foster son, Kyle, are one of those special families. View the video.

2017 Asset-Building Forum a Model for Openness

I was driving with my teenaged son the other day and I had been mulling over my recent experience at the Our Kids Network Forum when I asked him what he thought makes a good relationship. In his wisdom he didn’t miss a beat and he replied with ‘openness’. He shared that if you aren’t open to sharing, contributing and maintaining a relationship you are not going to get very far and he then went on to share some examples with me from his interactions with friends, teachers and coaches.

Openness. Receptivity. Innovation. These are words I would also use to describe the mindset of my colleagues at Halton Our Kids Network (OKN). I have had the sheer privilege of sharing their approach with audiences across North America in my work with Positive Youth Development, and these qualities were once again front and centre at their recent Relationships First – Social Innovation for Human Connection Forum. This annual event is always over-subscribed and for good reason.

Too often we toil away in our agencies – hitting enrollment numbers, juggling budgets, dealing with the day-to-day challenges ranging from lost mittens, to family disruptions, to health challenges and more. We are immersed in the necessary functions, but sometimes drifting so far from what energizes us and drew us to this work in the first place, our feeling of contribution and of purpose. The Forum’s focus was on “Creating environments where meaningful relationships for children and youth will thrive.” As we came together, some as staff teams, some as single representatives from our organizations, we knew that this day would be different.

As we were entering the room, we instantly felt that OKN was shaking things up and the engaged buzz of conversation heightened our receptivity. The beautiful sound of cellos, violins, violas, keyboards and guitars was not coming from an iPod dock, but from real-live students – the Abbey Park Strings. The institutional lights in the auditorium were dimmed to create an intimate vibe more reminiscent of a coffee house. And the seating? You had your choice of everything; including tables, pods, desks, comfy couches and even carpet surrounded by a nook that took you back to story time.

They say the way to a person’s heart is through their stomach and the planning team took this seriously. The food was amazing and the promise of what was coming out next was a great way to denote the transitions between speakers for the participants.
Our innovative hosts had created an environment for us where we could enrich our understanding and build our capacity to help children and youth to thrive. The program launched with a challenge from MC Jacqueline Newton, of the Halton District School Board, “to think about why we do the work that we do” as we experienced the program.


The presenters at the Forum embodied the elements of Developmental Relationships* 

Left to right: Drew Donaldson, Craig Woodhall, Annyse Balkwill, Kiron Mukherjee, Mike Gallant


Challenge Growth – The day began with Rick Boersma’s Innovation in a Box approach to collaborating. Rick stretched our traditional understanding of brainstorming utilizing his structured innovation process and practical tools to help us learn from our experiences. Rick assured us that, “The act of feeling frustrated is part of finding the solution. By utilizing tools and processes to frame the dialogue the frustration may not last as long and this will help move us to innovation.”

Expand Possibilities – Mike Gallant and Drew Donaldson from the Halton District School Board connected us with new ideas, experiences and the unique location of a cloud to build relationships. Openness to broadening our horizons and exploring new ways to connect are hallmarks of innovation and we look forward to learning more about how we can potentially utilize these tools in our work environments.

Express Care – Annyse Balkwill of the LuminUS Group reminded us that to unlock our collective wisdom we need to make a choice about our mindset when we show up and that we need to do so with intention. The warmth and encouragement that set the tone for her presentation (right down to her bare feet!), conveyed that paying attention to the process combined with trust helps us move forward toward our true purpose – why we do the work we do.

Share Power – Byng Leadership’s Craig Woodhall helped us make the most of our leadership potential and understand that even at the highest level of organizational leadership, we need to ask ourselves at the end of every day what we did to live the values we believe in. He said, “When you lead yourself in a better way you are prepared to lead others.”

Provide Support – Kiron Mukherjee’s enthusiastic storytelling and passion for his work with the Royal Ontario Museum’s family and children’s programs was a perfect way to wrap up the Forum. His ability to empower his campers with a life-long curiosity through hands-on learning while establishing boundaries to keep people on track with actions as simple as hanging out at the door to send the campers off at the end of the day provided us with simple actions we can employ in our own environments.

When all was said and done at the Forum, OKN modelled for participants exactly what we need to do in order to create environments where meaningful relationships for children and youth will thrive. The openness of OKN to sharing resources and training at the Forum exemplifies the importance of putting the building of relationships first. The openness to collaboration that OKN personifies is evident in the shared commitment from the Protocol Partners to maintain a solid foundation. The openness to sharing data and contributing to the efforts of each individual participant in OKN is rarely observed in regional and municipal collaborations.

Thinking back to the car ride home with my son, I wondered how the same child who can’t seem to find the dirty clothes hamper could be so aware of such an essential element of our basic human connection – openness. I gave myself a mental pat on the back for good parenting, at least on the well-rounded deep thinker I’m raising. We still need to work on instilling good housekeeping habits, but that’s material for another blog!

*Learn more about Developmental Relationships


Pat Howell-Blackmore – As principal and founder of PHB Spark Consulting, Pat focuses on providing consulting services related to group development, community development, capacity building, program research, development and evaluation. Pat has acted as a contributor and developer for original resources, training models, revisions and international editions on topics including Positive Youth Development, group facilitation, Asset Building, Social-Emotional Learning, Service-Learning, strategic communications, game-based learning, community engagement, conflict management, and community capacity building.
@PHBSpark   pathowellblackmore@gmail.com



7 Reasons to Explore our New Website

By Beth Williams, Our Kids Network Communications Manager

Earlier this month we quietly flicked the switch on our new Our Kids Network website. We’ve been using the last few weeks to gather some feedback, continue to smooth out glitches, and work on the finishing touches.

We plan to feature and celebrate the new website on a regular basis by introducing you to the vast resources and information found in every section. And of course we’ll do our best to act on your feedback and suggestions.

Below are 7 elements we’re particularly proud of, but they’re really just a taste of what this new site offers. Over the coming year, we’ll be mining the site’s content and using this blog to introduce new features and explore resources and tools that can help you in your work with children and families.

1.  The redesign began as a process to update the technology, design, and content of our five-year-old website, but it became much more than that. Team members brought perspectives and knowledge from administration, research, education, children’s services, children’s mental health, child protection, communications, and the community. The diverse views and opinions of this group were key to creating the best online environment to showcase our work and content, and appeal to our audience of Halton professionals who work with children, youth, and families. Here’s the team.

2. A window on our work. The scope and depth of Our Kids Network’s committees and their work, challenges, and accomplishments is evident in every section. Every OKN committee is connected in some way to the website, whether it’s the OKN timeline in the Learn About Us resources, the Data Portal in the Research section, or the Early Years Developmental Relationships video.

3. More visual impact and less text. Visual elements define major topic areas and simplify and guide navigation. We used colour blocks, strong graphics, and minimal text to get you quickly to the information you’re looking for and make it easier to browse.

4.  Simple navigation. Your feedback on the old website told us that easy navigation was key. Our new website organizes information so that it is easy to find, understand, and use. With less scrolling and clicking, you’ll quickly land on what you need.


5. Accessible without clicking the accessibility button. It’s important to us that everyone can explore and use the OKN website with ease. Our new site meets AODA accessibility standards when it comes to font size, appropriate use of colour and space, and suitability for screen readers, all without clicking the accessibility icon. (Clicking the button further enhances pages when needed.)

6. Visualizing data and information. We developed infographics to make it easier to understand some of the more complex aspects of OKN. For example, The Halton 7 population results, one of the cornerstones of our work and our common agenda, are something that everyone in Halton should know about and understand. Our infographic boils down complex research language and practices to 10 easy pieces.

7. What’s on the menu? Over the past two decades, OKN has produced a huge number of valuable tools and resources by using data collection cycles that now span a generation of children. These resources range from comprehensive toolkits, to videos, to technology and data reports. The website team worked hard to find a way to make it easy for you to both browse these resources and find them easily when you know what you want and are in a hurry. We call these our “resource tables” – simple, quick, and easy to use listings of resources, organized under topics and navigated with drop down menus. You’ll find OKN-produced resources, as well as numerous links, videos, and PDFs from other sources that can be used in our work.

Our website is a work in progress and we hope you’ll join in. Your feedback is one of the drivers of the website because we need continuous communication to grow. Look for page polls, email buttons, and surveys to make it easy for you to tell us what you think.

We encourage you to take the time to explore and get to know the website, and we hope you discover a wealth of information and resources to help you in your work with children and families. We’re looking forward to hearing from you on what you like and where we can improve. Watch for more information on website features in upcoming blogs!


Being Intentional

Using the power of research, relationships, and knowledge to help children, youth and families thrive now and in the future

The first year of our three-year Our Kids Network (OKN) development plan has come to an end and we’re seeing steady progress on our four priorities: Engagement, Knowledge Mobilization, System Navigation and Research. It’s clear in our initiatives and activities over the last year, that the network is more cohesive and more engaged. Committees and groups are evolving as needs are identified or change. We are becoming more intentional when putting knowledge into practice.

This is an exciting moment in our long history of collecting and sharing data. This year marks the first generation of children that have completed the OKN data cycle, over a twelve-year period. (Surveys are conducted every three years.) In total, 75,000 children, youth and families have participated in five OKN data cycles. This is invaluable to our mandate of evidence-based planning for children and families. There will be more exciting news on this milestone in 2017 as the community begins conversations on how to interpret and use the latest data to support children, youth and families in Halton.

This year in particular, the power of our relationships emerged as a driving force in how we meet challenges, solve problems and achieve success. We see this in Acton with the Early Years Project and local partners reacting to data that showed that a high number of children were starting school with vulnerabilities. It’s their strong relationships that empower the Acton Early Years team to continue to address these concerns on numerous levels with tangible benefits for children and families. We now have funding to expand this initiative into six additional neigbourhoods in Halton. This is a perfect example of the critical role relationships play in our success and growth.

From local groups planning family fairs to meetings with our elected officials, OKN knowledge is being shared and discussed across Halton. We see the Early Years Project team using data maps to stimulate discussion. @OurKidsNetwork is an important channel for knowledge transfer and engagement with stakeholders. Our partners at Halton Public Health ensure that each year the parents of Kindergarten students and students starting high school receive information packages to help with the transition. And these are only a few examples of how we’re intentionally making knowledge accessible, understandable and useful for professionals and families.

The OKN Collective Impact Report 2016 provides a snapshot of our collective action as we continue our focus on the Halton 7 (seven population outcomes) that are our common agenda. In the second year of our OKN network development plan, we will continue to identify needs and gaps, build on the activities of 2016, and will embark on some exciting new ones. It is you – our network of people – who advance this work, and I hope you will continue to stay involved and engaged in 2017.

On behalf of Our Kids Network, I wish you and your families the very best in the coming year!

Elena DiBattista,
Director, Our Kids Network

A focus on relationships can make it the best summer ever!

By Mary Tabak, Our Kids Network Developmental Assets Manager

Some of the best family memories are made during the summer months. With a little bit of planning and a little bit of luck, the summer of 2016 can be one those summers that you talk about all year long.

So, what’s the magic recipe? There is no such thing. Every family has unique characters, special circumstances and interesting challenges and strengths. However, the summer of 2013, our best so far, did have a few guiding principles that helped us find our way.

First, we re-visited some old traditions. You know, those things that you did when the kids were young….but haven’t done in a long time. We used to visit our local farms regularly until the kids became “too cool” for that. Going to Springridge Farm for lunch and spending an afternoon, brought back old memories and stories, and a flicker of childhood past. We also pulled out some of our favourite children’s stories and opened the pool with an underwear swim. What started out as eyes rolling backwards, turned into a lot of good, affordable fun.  Continue reading