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HIPPY Program and Early Language Learning (ELL) – Pilot launched in Vancouver and Toronto

This October, Mothers Matter Centre (MMC) launched the pilot of a newcomer innovation called HIPPY Program and Early Language Learning (ELL). It combines our foundational HIPPY program with language instruction for isolated immigrant and refugee mothers. We sat down with Christine Buttkus, Director of Newcomer Program Innovations, to learn more.


Christine, what is HIPPY Program and Early Language Learning?

HIPPY Program and ELL is a specially designed program to support mothers who have the basic needs of the HIPPY program – highly isolated mothers of three- and four-year-old children – and low levels of English literacy. The innovation combines the HIPPY program and its mother-to-mother approach with home and community-based language learning. We hear frequently from HIPPY Home Visitors, Coordinators, and families in the HIPPY program of the long wait lists for the LINC (Language Instruction for Newcomers to Canada) programming. Mothers who have multiple kids may not have the capacity to meet the participation requirements, so our innovation is meant to reduce barriers for mothers.

Tell us more about the Early Language Learning part of the program.

The innovation is specifically designed to meet the needs of isolated newcomer and refugee families. Mothers who participate in HIPPY Program and ELL will have an extra half hour weekly with their Home Visitor to focus on English language skills at their own pace. They will also participate in two weekly language classes in the community that are delivered by a specially trained language instructor. This will help mothers settle more quickly by gaining useful daily language skills and the community connections they need. A strong relationship with a Home Visitor who can relate to the mother’s experiences is key to helping participants succeed.

Who is the program aimed at?

The program is for newcomer mothers who would meet the eligibility criteria for the HIPPY program – highly isolated mothers with young children ages three or four who aren’t able to access other programming. The mothers who participate have to have language skills at Canadian Language Benchmark level three or below.

MMC’s newcomer innovations are designed to help immigrant families settle into Canadian society. How does HIPPY Program and ELL break barriers for newcomers?

The HIPPY program already breaks barriers, and adding the Early Language Learning classes will help bring mothers out to groups twice a week, so the mothers will be in a group setting more often. I think the real key difference is that we’re teaching basic language skills that mothers can use in daily interactions. A needs assessment will define where the material is focused by the instructor. It could focus on making medical appointments or talking with a child’s teacher or making friends – skills that the mothers can use that week, so pretty much real-time, applicable kinds of learning. HIPPY Program and ELL is also more flexible than other language programs. We try to be really responsive and support the mothers, so if they can’t come to language class, the Home Visitor will still be able to use some of the content to support the moms where they are. For the most part, we’re trying to work with each mother to keep them moving forward so that we don’t lose anyone.

Where is the program currently offered?

The HIPPY part of the program has begun in Surrey and Toronto. And we expect that the ELL sessions will start in Vancouver in mid-November. Later in November, Toronto will add ELL. The pilot will go until March of 2020. If the pilot is as successful as we think it’s going to be, then there will be the possibility to be part of any HIPPY program that chooses to offer it across Canada.


Spaces are available for a few more participants at both locations. If you’re interested or want to refer someone, contact our HIPPY Program and ELL Partners:

Vancouver: Shahla Sultan, ISSofBC ( / (604) 684-2561 ext.1138)

Toronto: Sylvie Charliekaram, Working Women Community Centre ( / (416)-750-9600 ext.260)

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