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After two years of study and exploration, the Laidlaw Foundation last year adopted social inclusion as the strategic and conceptual focus of its Children's Agenda funding program. Social inclusion is the logical successor to the Foundation's Children at Risk (CAR) program which provided support for Campaign 2000 and The Progress of Canada's Children. The CAR program helped create positive perspectives on child well-being, it identified key public policies and community practices needed to ensure that all children flourished, and it moved public policy from a "casualty" approach to children's well-being to a focus on strengths, assets, and capabilities.
Social inclusion moves us even further from a "risk orientation" to a human development approach; from a focus on marginalization and targeting to a struggle for solidarity and universality; from a concern with bringing "outsiders" or the marginalized "in" to an examination of what people are being included into.
The policy interest in social inclusion originated in Europe where it was limited to the presence of adults in the labour market. The Laidlaw Foundation's understanding is both different and deeper we see social inclusion as the contemporary lens through which to understand social well-being, equality, and citizenship. Recognition is central to this new understanding, as are earlier notions of social and economic proximity.
There are different perspectives on the meaning and power of social inclusion. Some people see the central question as: Does social inclusion help create a level playing field so that all may play, or are we talking about changing the rules of the game? We believe it is both. Similarly, does social inclusion promote the valued recognition of diversity and differences, or does it focus on the commonalities of people's experiences and aspirations as parents, workers, and neighbours? Again, we believe it is both. Finally, is social inclusion merely a new "spin" or is it a new way of thinking and acting?
Social inclusion has tremendous potential to inform a transformative policy agenda at both the civic and national levels. It provides us with the opportunity to explore and implement new ways of advancing individual and collective well-being. We must not squander this opportunity by simply using 'social inclusion' as new packaging to justify the 'same old' public policies and community practices.