Leaders, not ‘needers’CARS project puts women in the driver’s seat in rural and remote communities

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Over 20 years ago, Carol Gott, a mother of three young children looked around her rural community of Feversham, Ontario for childcare and community support. Finding little or nothing in the way of services for young parents, she decided it was time to create something, first setting up a childcare and drop-in centre, then another, then another throughout the surrounding area. A couple of years after starting this work, she met Jane Wilson from Langruth, Manitoba at a childcare conference and this dynamic team has been working together ever since—bringing people together and helping to build healthier rural and remote communities.

From “kitchen table” meetings to presentations on Parliament Hill, Gott and Wilson tirelessly promote a national strategy for childcare that incorporates a continuum of services—community-based, inclusive, non-profit centres, home care and other solutions that meet the diverse needs of parents in rural, remote, northern and Aboriginal communities.
“We both started as ‘needers,’ not leaders,” says Wilson. And now the two women are doing what they call “leadership succession planning.” In 2002, they co-founded Rural Voices for Early Childhood Education and Care and are now co-trainers in CARS for Women and Children in Rural, Remote, Northern and Aboriginal Communities. This is their most recent project, sponsored by the Canadian Women's Health Network (CWHN) in partnership with Rural Voices, to help residents in rural, remote, northern and Aboriginal communities across Canada increase their involvement in the development and delivery of local services. The work is financially supported by HRSDC’s Social Development Partnerships Program.

"I started out as a young mom in need of services," says Gott. "Now I am honoured to be able to share our CARS process with other moms from small communities across the county. We are empowering rural, remote, northern and Aboriginal communities to move forward, when policy-makers might think our communities are too small or remote to be concerned about." 

The Canadian Women's Health Network (CWHN) and Rural Voices have been working over the past year with young mothers from across the country on the CARS for Women and Children project. The project is training two groups of mothers from rural, remote, northern and Aboriginal communities using a 10-step “CARS process” to increase their involvement in the development and delivery of services for families and children in their communities. Early childhood development is a central focus of the project. “Moms have the passion to make things better for their children,” says Wilson. “And rural childcare is a huge health issue for rural women.”

The CARS process was shaped from the earlier “integrated hub” model of service delivery in rural southern Ontario during the early 1990s. The model was created to connect seven small villages (including Feversham) and their rural areas together to develop and improve access to services for families, children and youth across the region. A few years later the model was replicated in the Langruth region in central Manitoba, and has continued to spread from there.

The Canadian Women's Health Network sees the benefits the CARS process for recognizing community capacity to improve women's health. "Our new partnership with Rural Voices has allowed us to contact more women in regions which were often hard to reach," says Susan White, Assistant Executive Director of CWHN. "This process empowers them to move forward with what the community wants and needs from a service user's perspective. This should be how all community services are improved."

The first training session took place from January to May 2008 and, of the 14 parents who took part, eight are now involved in local community initiatives. CARS also hosted a successful national conference in Winnipeg in February 2008. The second group of women began training in September 2008 and they are currently organizing kitchen table meetings in their communities to involve more parents in the project. By January 2009, the project will have trained 22 women to take on leadership roles in their own communities.
 
Although it was originally developed to respond primarily to services for children and families, CARS is a generic process that can be used for any service issue in a community. In addition to the Women and Children project, Rural Voices is working on a second project, funded by the Lawson Foundation, to provide the CARS training to communities in every province and territory over a three-year period ending in May 2010. The women are also working on a database that will link 26 communities across the country, and they launched an interactive website in September 2008.

For more information, and to access the CARS process online, visit the CARS website at www.carsprocess.com