Defining safety and inclusivity in the public health context: Reflecting on PHABC’s Summer School 2018

Building Safe and Inclusive Communities was the theme of the 2018 Public Health Association of BC (PHABC) Summer School, hosted on July 5th and 6th at five university sites and five other remote sites across BC and Saskatchewan. Presenters shared stories, experiences, and research related to various aspects of safety and inclusivity, including health equity, cultural safety, protection against violence, safety in our built and natural environments, risky play, online safety, and protection against the trauma that can come with emergencies and natural disasters.

Image of the program outline for PHABC's Summer School

It was great to be able to explore the complexity of the terms “safety” and “inclusivity”, because they mean different things in different contexts and to different people. Dr. Bernie Pauly explored the topic of health equity, explaining how equity initiatives over the past several years have become very narrow in scope, focusing only on those population groups who are most vulnerable or marginalized. To truly improve population-level health outcomes, we need policies, programs and resources that are proportionate to our level of need, across the social gradient. Jade Yehia, Regional Built Environment Consultant with Island Health, provided a review of the new Healthy Built Environment Linkages Toolkit 2.0, explaining how safety and inclusivity are heavily impacted by the physical environments we live, work, learn and play in. Sarah Burke, Senior Manager of Community Integrated Development & Emergency Management at Red Cross Canada, talked about the trauma associated with emergencies, natural disasters, and cyberbullying, encouraging us to work with communities to both identify their strengths and to determine the best course of action for their local context.

A common thread between each presentation was the importance of engaging those who are, or will be, affected by our efforts to create safe and inclusive communities. How will we know what a community really wants or needs if we don’t connect with them? How will we know when someone feels truly safe and welcome if we don’t ask them? Have we heard from diverse voices? Are we building on the strengths and assets of a community, rather than focusing on its deficits? Each presentation and group discussion gave us the chance to think about safety and inclusivity in a different way, but always through an equity lens.

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