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Hastings and Prince Edward Public Health
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Education, Literacy and Skills, and Early Childhood Development

Education, Literacy and Skills

Education, from preschool through to post-secondary, is critical to positive health outcomes in childhood and beyond (1).

  • Compared to 10.4% in Ontario, 13.7% of adults in Hastings and Prince Edward Counties do not have a high school diploma (2).
  • In Hastings and Prince Edward Counties, 55.6% of adults have a post-secondary degree, diploma or certificate, compared to 65.1% in Ontario (3).

A high school diploma opens doors to postsecondary education and greater opportunities for jobs in the community. Education can have an effect on health through neural development, biological aging, health literacy and health behaviours, sense of control and empowerment, and life chances (1).

Additional health benefits of education include:

Better jobs: An education provides opportunities for better jobs that are stable and provide benefits, such as paid leave (4).

Increased income: An education provides opportunities for a reliable and sufficient income. Less education often corresponds to lower average earnings. The higher income that education often allows permits families to pay for nutritious foods, enhance their access to health services and offers funds to participate in certain health behaviours, such as attending exercise classes (4).

Less stress: An education helps protect against the chronic stress from persistent economic and social hardship (4).

Public Health’s Role

  • Hosting nurses in select secondary schools to support teenage sexual health.
  • Providing pregnancy support and counselling at Sexual Health Clinics.
  • Working with school boards to ensure teachers and administrators are aware of how a child’s education leads to their future health and well-being.
  • Supporting children to return safely to school through the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other Resources in the Community

Early Childhood Development

Mom with young toddler

The early childhood years from the prenatal period until age five are critical for development that influences health and life outcomes (5). During early childhood, children’s development is shaped by the experiences and environments to which they are exposed (5).

How Communicating with an Infant Affects their Abilities in Early Childhood

Responsive relationships with caregivers and positive early experiences support healthy brain development. This is particularly important in the first few years of life when the building blocks of the brain are connecting rapidly (6). Children’s brains develop through reciprocal serve and return interactions with caregivers. These serve and return interactions happen when a parent or caregiver responds appropriately to a child’s signal and needs. Serve and return is used as a metaphor to a game of tennis. For example, a baby “serves” by reaching out for an interaction with the caregiver by smiling or cooing. A caregiver “returns” by smiling and babbling back to the child.  This part of brain development happens in infancy and early childhood (6). A strong start in school is critical to positive health outcomes in childhood and beyond (1); without a positive home environment it is difficult for children to have positive school outcomes.

  • Over one in three kindergarten students in Hastings and Prince Edward Counties are not developmentally ready to start school according to the early development instrument (7). Learn more about the EDI and the early years
  • There are many factors that lead to children to be developmentally ready to start school. Certain risk factors can make the transition to school and school readiness more challenging. Having a risk factor does not mean a child cannot be successful, but rather it can be an additional barrier to overcome that other children may not have to.
  • Living in a low-income or lone-parent household can make it harder to have safe and affordable housing, nutritious foods, and parents present due to precarious or unstable work. This is an additional barrier that some children must face that others do not.
    • In Hastings and Prince Edward Counties, 21.1% of children (ages 0-17) are living in low income households, compared to 18.4% in Ontario (assessed using the after-tax low-income measure).
    • In Hastings and Prince Edward Counties, 30.2% of households are lone parent households (8).

Adverse Child Events and Impacts on Health in Later Life

Traumatic early childhood experiences can lead to poor health outcomes later in life (9). Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) including abuse, neglect and family dysfunction are potentially traumatic events experienced during childhood (9) . The negative effects from experiencing a traumatic event in childhood can persist for years (9). A significant number of adults self-report having experienced ACEs (9). As the number of ACEs experienced increases, the risk for negative health and life outcomes later in life increases proportionately (9). The list of potential negative health and well-being outcomes include obesity, diabetes, suicide attempts, sexually transmitted infections, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), broken bones, as well as smoking, alcohol abuse and drug use (9).

We Can Prevent Adverse Child Events

In our communities, we can prevent ACEs by:

  • Strengthening economic and social supports to families.
  • Promoting social norms that protect against violence and adversity.
  • Ensuring a strong start for children.
  • Teaching skills to help parents and youth handle stress, manage emotions, and tackle everyday challenges.
  • Connecting children to caring adults and activities.
  • Intervening to lessen the immediate and long-term harms (9).

It is clear that the experiences in all stages of childhood have a significant impact on the health outcomes that children may experience later in life. HPEPH wants our communities to know that public health has a role to play in supporting early childhood experiences.

Public Health’s Role

  • Breastfeeding support and infant feeding classes.
  • Connecting parents to positive parenting resources such as Triple P Parenting Classes offered locally.
  • Providing home visits by a Public Health Nurse to qualifying new parents
  • Promotion of visual health and comprehensive eye examinations to prevent undiagnosed vision problems that can lead to trouble learning to read and write, as well as participating in sports and staying safe (10).
  • Promotion and screening for oral health in schools, and dental care for eligible children based on household income.
  • Public education about the importance of positive parenting practices for the early years.
  • Public education on the importance of physical activity and nutritious eating for the early years.


  1. Cohen AK, Syme SL. Education: A missed opportunity for public health intervention. Am J Public Health. 2013;103(6):997–1001.
  2. Public Health Ontario. Percent of the population without a high school diploma both sexes all ages [Internet]. PHO Snapshots. 2020. Available from:
  3. Pubic Health Ontario. Percent of the population with a high school diploma or post-secondary degree/diploma/certificate-both sexes 2016 [Internet]. Social Determinants of Health Snapshot. 2020 [cited 2019 Jan 16]. Available from:
  4. Center on Society and Health: Virginia Commonwealth University and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Why Education Matters to Health: Exploring the Causes [Internet]. Issue Brief. 2014. Available from:
  5. Center for the Developing Child. The Science of Early Childhood Development [Internet]. Cambridge, Ma; 2007. Available from:
  6. Center on the Developing Child. From best practices to breakthrough impacts national scientific council on the developing child foundation [Internet]. Harvard. 2016. Available from:
  7. Knowledge Management Division Kingston Frontenac and Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Public Health. Hastings Prince Edward Public Health 2017 Population Health Assessment [Internet]. Belleville; 2017. Available from:
  8. Public Health Ontario. Percent of lone parent households [Internet]. PHO Snapshots. 2020. Available from:
  9. National Centre for Injury Prevention and Control. Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs): Leveraging the best available evidence. 2019.
  10. Grossman DC, Curry SJ, Owens DK, Barry MJ, Davidson KW, Doubeni CA, et al. Vision screening in children aged 6 months to 5 years: US preventive services task force recommendation statement. Vol. 318, JAMA – Journal of the American Medical Association. American Medical Association; 2017. p. 836–44.

Need More Information About Education, Literacy and Skills, and Early Childhood Development?

Please contact the Social Determinants of Health Nurse by calling 613-966-5500 or 1-800-267-2803.

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