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Scientific Research Supports Recreation for Children Living in Poverty

Key Message

Offering recreational services helps psychologically disordered children on welfare maintain their social, physical and academic competence at a level equal to that of a non-disordered child. Without the services, the child’s competence level actually drops over time.

Source

Haldane, S. (2000). Scientific Research Supports Recreation for Children Living in Poverty. Parks and Recreation Canada, 58(6).

Purpose

Recreation providers are often hard pressed to provide empirical evidence that programs and services make a real difference in the lives of people. While testimonials and storytelling are crucial to bringing our work to life for funders, we need hard data to justify ongoing and increasing support.

In this context, the results of a recent collaborative research project are helpful to all who need to demonstrate that recreation and childcare programs make a measurable difference for children and families living in poverty. Two studies funded by Health Canada and the Hamilton Community Foundation (When the Bough Breaks and Benefiting All the Beneficiaries) were undertaken from 1995-1999. McMaster University of Hamilton, Ontario, conducted the research in partnership with the YMCA of Hamilton/Burlington and the Regional Municipalities of Hamilton-Wentworth and Halton.

METHODOLOGY
The sample consisted of 765 households headed by sole support mothers on social assistance with 1,300 children, aged 0-24 years. It is, by all comparisons, a study of considerable magnitude. Each family was randomly assigned to groups ranging from those receiving no additional services (beyond social assistance), to those receiving a full spectrum of services, including home visits by public health nurses, job re-training through the regional government and recreation/child care for children.

The YMCA of Hamilton/Burlington was responsible for coordinating and providing case management to families assigned to the recreation component of the study, by engaging and enabling the families to participate in recreation and childcare programs of their choice. The YMCA coordinator contacted families, encouraged their participation in the study, assisted in registering for recreation and childcare programs, made payment through study funds and provided ongoing support.

Through this process, recreational opportunities were provided for 370 children. The engagement rate was 76 per cent compared to 73 per cent for public health education and 37 per cent for employment retraining, despite the fact that engagement in recreation required a minimum participation in one program over 10 weeks. Public health required a minimum of a brief consultation.

Twenty seven per cent of the sole support mothers chose to place their children in YMCA programs, while the remaining children were placed in recreation and childcare programs provided by 29 other organizations.

Evidence

Offering recreational services helps psychologically disordered children on welfare maintain their social, physical and academic competence at a level equal to that of a non-disordered child. Without the services, the child’s competence level actually drops over time.

Recreation pays for itself through reduced use of social and health services (such as probation, social work, child psychiatry/psychology and other professional specialties). Providing recreation is also associated with good outcomes for the mother, including fewer nervous system problems, less medication usage, less anxiety, reduced reliance on subsidized childcare, less counseling and reduced usage of food banks.

The impact of providing recreational services resulted in a 10 per cent greater exit from social assistance compared to parents of children who did not receive this service. Ten per cent of parents without services exited from social assistance after one year, while 20 per cent of parents who received recreational services for their children exited from social assistance after one year.

A financial interpretation of these results establishes a strong case for investing in children: In Hamilton/Wentworth, there are 4,000 sole support mothers on social assistance with 8,000 children over the age of six. In order to place these children in recreation programs, we would need 10 recreation coordinators (with a caseload of 400 children as established by the study).

We would also need 50 public health nurses (with a caseload of 33 mothers) since 50 per cent of the families have serious mental health issues as established by the study.

In order to pay back this investment, 355 additional families have to withdraw from social assistance each year, saving $12,000 per family. This represents 5.9 per cent of the total caseload. The research predicts that 10 per cent more families will withdraw from social assistance when their children are placed in recreation. In addition, there would also be indirect savings and benefits (e.g. increased tax revenue from mothers returning to the work force, decrease in inappropriate use of the health care system and improved self-esteem in children and mothers).

Additional Information

| Leisure Information Network (LIN). http://lin.ca/resources/scientific-research-supports-recreation-children-living-poverty

Benefit Statements / Outcomes

Leadership Provided By:

  • Leisure Information Network (LIN)
  • Alberta Recreation and Parks Association

On Behalf Of:

  • Canadian Parks and Recreation Association (CPRAA)

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