Introduction Link
Appendix A
Local Contacts and Services
Factors Affecting Child Development

Environmental Factors      • Biological Factors
Interpersonal Relationships       • Early Environments and Experiences

  • An environmental scan completed by the National Collaborating Centre for the Determinants of Health (2008b) assessed the challenges faced by professionals supporting early child development. The following themes emerged across Canada:
  • Early child development needs to be a priority issue in policy and practice.
  • Poverty is the factor creating most stress within families and undermines healthy child development.
  • Some population groups face considerable inability to access services related to:

    - Language barriers,
    - Transportation issues,
    - Availability of programs and services,
    - Stigma
    - Cost
  • There is lack of coordination of services.
  • There are not enough human resources allocated to programs and services for early child development.
  • Home visiting programs have demonstrated good results, but lack scientific evidence.
  • Children enter school demonstrating various levels of school readiness.

These themes will need to be kept in mind when assessing the factors affecting each child’s development.

To help professionals assess the factors affecting a child’s development, they have been grouped into four areas:
  • Environmental factors
  • Biological factors
  • Interpersonal relationships
  • Early environments and experiences (Shanker, 2008; Blair & Diamond, 2008)
From the many factors affecting the child’s development, we have taken some examples to illustrate each category.

Environmental Factors

Factor or condition Child-level determinants Family-level determinants Community-level determinants Society-level determinants
Housing Does the child have space to play and explore? Is there overcrowding? Is there green space such as parks where children can play? Is there evidence of community building when planning new developments?
  Is the child safe from injury or contaminants such as lead? Are there any housing conditions contributing to ill health such as moisture and molds? Is the community safe from crime and environmental pollution? Is there housing support for low income families?
Income Does the child have adequate clothing -e.g. snowsuit and boots in winter weather? Is the family experiencing financial stress or a high debt load? Are there low cost community programs for children and families? Are social assistance programs and subsidies available and accessible to those in need?
  Does the child receive adequate nutrition? Fresh fruits and vegetables are more costly in Northern communities. Is the family a single parent family or do they have to rely on one income? Does the community provide secure access to food such as food banks? Do programs exist that provide specific subsidies for food?
Employment Does the child have quality child care, when parents are working? Do families, especially single parents, have child care stress? Does the community have high rates of employment? Is there equality in income?
    Do families have meaningful and adequate employment? Do families have to commute to access meaningful employment?  
Education Does someone read and play with the child? What level of education do family members have? Is parental engagement in early education encouraged in the community? Are programs in place to keep adolescents in school and improve their education?
  Does the child have access to books and toys that stimulate literacy development? Do families have practices and beliefs that encourage literacy development? Are there options for adult and family education, including ESL classes?  
  Does the child attend quality early childhood education programs? Do families have access to early childhood education programs?   Is early childhood education valued, and supported through policies and practice?

Biological Factors

Factor or condition Child-level determinants Family-level determinants Community-level determinants Society-level determinants
Gender Is the child a boy or a girl? Boys and girls tend to develop and learn differently (e.g. currently boys have lower levels of school readiness). Is there evidence of gender stereotyping, or abuse in the family? Are women and men from various cultures and backgrounds evident as community leaders? Are women’s rights, women’s equality and children’s rights protected?
General health Was the child born with a healthy birth weight? Being born small or large for gestational age is linked to obesity and chronic disease. How was the mother’s preconception and prenatal health? Folic acid intake for 3 months prior to conception significantly reduces neural tube defects. Is there access to health services in the community (e.g. medical, dental, vision, hearing, speech and language)? Is there universal access to quality health and specialty services for children?
  Does the child have a medical condition? Do family members have chronic conditions? Parents with disabilities or chronic disease may require added supports. Is there community support for people with disabilities? Is there adequate financial and program support for families with disabilities?
Mental Health Does the child have a warm and nurturing environment? How is the mother’s perinatal mental health? 1 in 5 mothers will suffer from depression, anxiety or another mood disorder during pregnancy or the first year after birth. Are there programs to support mothers’ mental health during pregnancy and postpartum? Is there societal support to reduce social stigma of mental illness and provide perinatal mental health services?
  Does the child have consistent and responsive care-givers?

Do family members experience trauma, abuse or poor mental health?

Are there community supports such as shelters, respite care, programs and services that promote coping skills?

Is there societal support to reduce social stigma of abuse and provide services for victims of trauma and abuse and those experiencing mental illness?

Health practices Does the child have a pattern for eating, sleeping and playing? Does the family attend to nutrition, set consistent times for sleep and engage in active play? Are there parenting classes that offer information on nutrition, sleeping and activity?  
  Is the child breastfed or receiving breastmilk? Does the family have information and support to make an informed choice to breastfeed? Is there public, peer and professional support for breastfeeding women? Is the practice of exclusive breastfeeding to 6 months and continued breastfeeding with complementary foods accepted and encouraged?
  Does the child take part in structured and unstructured physical activities for at least 60 minutes and up to several hours per day? Are physical activity practices encouraged by family members? Are community programs and spaces available to encourage physical activity year round? Is free, active play and physical activity encouraged in pre-school and kindergarten curriculum?
  Are children introduced to consistent oral hygiene practices? Are oral hygiene and dental health practices encouraged? Are low cost dental programs available?  

Interpersonal Relationships

Relationships are particularly important as infants learn primarily through their relationship with others. Eye contact, smiles and imitation set the stage for more sustained communication and meaningful exchanges and engagement with parents and other caregivers, and a growing world of relationships (Field, 2007; Gerhardt, 2004; Greenspan & Shanker, 2004; Shanker, 2008).

Factor or condition Child-level determinants Family-level determinants Community-level determinants Society-level determinants
Attachment Does the child show a secure attachment pattern to her primary caregiver? Is the primary caregiver available and responsive to the child cues to assist her in developing a secure attachment? Are programs available to promote attachment parenting? Are primary caregivers given financial and instrumental support to develop a secure attachment with their child (e.g. self-employed mothers do not receive maternity benefits)?
Parenting styles Does the child experience a consistent parenting style? Do parents provide a consistent parenting style (e.g. authoritative, authoritarian, permissive or uninvolved)? Are parenting programs available?  Parents use their own parents as role models, but don’t want to make the same mistakes as their parents. Are the rights and responsibilities of parents recognized in workplace and other policies?
Social networks Does the child have relationships with other adults and children? Does the family have extended family and/or social networks they belong to? Are interest groups available that include the whole family (e.g. religious groups, cultural groups, activity groups)? Is there societal support for the development of diverse interest groups that include the whole family?
  Does the child have friends and is there evidence of peer acceptance? Is there evidence of acceptance of the family within the community or network? Does the community foster a sense of belonging for all families regardless of cultural, sexual or religious orientation? Is there evidence of support of human rights, and lack of discrimination?

Early Environments and Experiences

  • These have already been mentioned in the examples given. The most important early environment for an infant is her primary caregiver. How the primary caregiver responds to the child shapes the early brain pathways and builds the foundation for future learning. Early experiences involve all senses through:
    • Touch - e.g., skin-to-skin holding
    • Smell - e.g., smell of mother’s skin and breastmilk
    • Taste - e.g., taste of breastmilk
    • Sight - e.g., eye contact, gazing at face
    • Hearing - e.g., hearing a familiar voice
A child needs experiences like these to develop her social, emotional, language, cognitive, and physical skills (Greenspan & Shanker, 2004; McCain, Mustard & Shanker, 2007; Shanker 2010). Over time these experiences become more and more complex until she has reached the ability to think symbolically, build bridges between ideas, connect feelings and develop an understanding of how the world works. All this is done through continued reciprocal interactions with adults and peers (Greenspan & Shanker, 2004; Mandler, 2004).