Baby bundle items are displayed on a table at the program's launch in October 2022. Sarah Pruys/Cabin Radio
Free bundles of essential items will now be provided to new babies and caregivers in the Northwest Territories. A ceremony to launch the program took place on Friday.
Families and caregivers will typically receive a bundle around their 30 to 32-week prenatal visit, though they can also receive the bundle at the well-health visit after their baby’s birth.
Items included are primarily for babies aged up to six months.
“There are over 35 items that are essential for families as they navigate parenting and that new journey,” said Kyla Wright, who works on “social innovation” projects like this one for the NWT’s Department of Health and Social Services.
“There are newborn care essential items as well as items for parents and expectant parents … as well as resources and information to support them.”
Usually, the bundle is provided before the baby arrives “because it is often easier to review the information and organize baby items and supplies during this time,” reads an explainer on the department’s website, “rather than after the baby arrives, when it can feel more stressful or overwhelming.”
The program, which involves a GNWT partnership with Indigenous Services Canada, De Beers and Mountain Province Diamonds, is funded for the next four years.
It is also retroactive to July 1, so caregivers of babies born from July 1 onward can contact their local health centre to receive a bundle.
“We just wanted to centre the needs of children and families and recognize that all families really need support. We want to be there as a community and support caregivers as they engage in that new journey as a parent,” said Wright.
The GNWT believes the bundles can build on research that shows the benefits of supporting pre-natal and post-natal health and leave “a positive legacy in the regions by improving the early childhood education levels and skills that in turn improve the livelihoods of community members.”
At the program launch on Friday afternoon, Kyla Kakfwi Scott, an assistant deputy minister at Health and Social Services, said the bundles have been “informed by families, communities, and Elders who have shared with us a vision for children that are nurtured to become strong and capable people, and caregivers that are supported by community.”
The launch follows a pilot project that ran from 2016 to 2020 in partnership with the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, Yellowknives Dene First Nation, Hay River Health and Social Services Authority, and Fort Smith region of the NWT’s health authority.
Following feedback from caregivers, the bundle was then updated to better meet a baby’s needs during their first six months of life.
Rose Mantla, a Tłı̨chǫ Elder, grandmother and teacher, spoke at the launch about the importance of community support for raising children.
Mantla was selected as the inaugural Elder to share “words of encouragement” with new parents and caregivers through the program. Her advice is included in the bundle, along with other papers such as forms that are filled out when a baby arrives, safe sleep advice, how to care for a crying baby, and what to expect at well-child visits.
Each year, a new Elder or grandparent from a different NWT region will share encouraging words to be included in that year’s bundle.
“You start to look after baby from the time they are in the womb. Pregnancy is an important time to learn and connect with different programs in the community,” reads some of Mantla’s advice.
“Eat well, get regular check-ups, and do physical activity out on the land; walk through the woods and gather berries, spruce gum, spruce boughs. Connect to Mother Earth.”
The territorial government expects to give away approximately 600 baby bundles each year. Including the cost of delivering the boxes across the NWT, the bundles are valued at around $650.
De Beers and Mountain Province Diamonds are covering 45 percent of the cost, while the territorial and federal governments are covering the rest through their Northern Wellness Agreement.