In Focus with Dr. Barry Forer

If you are a long-time collaborator with Human Early Learning Partnership, then you will certainly know the name, Dr. Barry Forer. Barry, a research methodologist and statistician specializing in early childhood development, has worked in the field since 1986, when he filled in as a lecturer for Research Methods and Statistics class at the University of Victoria’s School of Child Care. “It turns out that there were very few quantitative researchers in child care,” Barry shares with a chuckle. “I have never lacked for research opportunities since those early days.”  

Last year Barry was recognized for his knowledge, experience and dedication to this research stream with an appointment to the Government of Canada’s Expert Panel on Early Learning and Child Care Data and Research.

According to the Government of Canada Expert Panel website: “The Expert Panel brings together a diverse group of 14 members [three representatives from National Indigenous Organization have since joined the group] who will provide valuable advice and input to the Minister of Families, Children and Social Development on a range of early learning and child care issues that will in turn inform the data and research strategy.”Further, “the Expert Panel will act as a sounding board and a forum for in-depth discussion on issues related to early learning and child care information, data and research.” Over the course of 18 months, the Panel will provide advice and recommendations that will contribute to the development of a national, early learning and child care data and research strategy. 

In the first of our In Focus interviews with HELP faculty and researchers, HELP’s Communication Lead Amy Mullis sat down with Barry (virtually) to learn more about his work with the panel: 

Amy Mullis: Why do you think this work is important? 

Barry Forer: I firmly believe that in order to build a universal child care system that provides high quality non-parental care options to all parents who require it - not to mention adequate parental leave supports for those with very young children - there are a number of policy changes that would need to be implemented in Canada. One key element is dedicated, ongoing data collection and research enshrined in government services. 

AM:  What is your goal as a member of the Expert Panel? 

BF: I want to help address the many data and research gaps in child care. For example, there hasn’t been a study of child care quality in Canada since 2000 and that study was the only one ever done. There is relatively little information in Canada about how child care, in combination with other family context variables, influences children’s developmental outcomes. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that there is a worsening recruitment and retention crisis in the ELCC workforce, which cannot be fixed without some fundamental advances around education and training requirements, pay scales, benefits, and more. We need this information to inform our progress towards achieving our common vision of a universal child care system in Canada. 

AM: What is one thing you’d like our BC audience to know about your work with the Expert Panel?

BF: The Expert Panel is playing an advisory role in the development of a dedicated system of research and data collection that will help fill these knowledge gaps. I am pleased with the progress we have made recently, particularly after the challenges we have faced as a panel. First a federal election, which led to a change in Minister and a delay in our meeting schedule. Then COVID-19. As well, our mandate shifted focus after the October federal election to align objectives of work on early learning and child care with Government priorities. For example, to include consideration of Early Learning and Child Care for school-age children and advice around the Minister’s mandate to establish an Early Learning and Child Care Secretariat. And, of course, many panel members have always wanted our mandate to be broader, specifically to be inclusive of a vision for a Canadian child care system.

And even under these circumstances the Expert Panel has made significant progress. For example, we have developed our vision statement for Early Learning and Child Care in Canada. But there is much work to do and not much time to do it as the Expert Panel’s mandate ends December 1, 2020. I know we will provide some practical advice on priority data collection and indicators, and on the most useful and innovative research projects to support a Canadian child care system, as well as how to partner with three Indigenous governing bodies towards an inclusive Early Learning and Child Care/Indigenous Early Learning and Child Care system.