Using social media to connect with new moms

One day a month, Franca Ursitti leads a conversation on children’s environmental health on the Parenting in Peel Facebook page hosted by her colleagues in the public health unit of the large Ontario suburban municipality of Peel Region.

“I did a session, for example, on indoor air quality,” recalls Franca, “and a question came up on the meaning of unscented versus fragrance-free.” She explained that ‘fragrance-free’ means that nothing has been added to the product either to produce or mask a fragrance, while the term ‘unscented’ means that chemicals may have been added to mask an odour.

“The explanation was seen by almost a thousand people. They ‘liked it’ and shared it with others,” she said. “It’s really tangible for them because it helps them when they’re making purchase decisions in the store.”

The Parenting in Peel initiative is run by a team of public health nurses in the Family Health division of Peel Public Health, engaging new and expectant moms in conversations on all kinds of issues related to parenting and the needs and well-being of young children. Topics range from breast feeding to nutrition to Franca’s area of expertise, environmental health.

“So, when it’s an environmental health day, I’ll prepare the content collaboratively with an environmental health promoter to make sure the language is appropriate for Facebook,” says Franca. “It’s very different writing. Keep it simple, not a whole shopping list. You offer just a bit of information and then ask ‘what do you think?’”

The very first time Franca guest-posted on the Parenting in Peel site, she posted CPCHE’s ‘Top 5 Tips’ video on creating a safe home environment for kids. When she did a session on indoor air quality, she posted the links for CPCHE’s Bust that Dust and Renovate Right.

“To be honest, I think there’s been one or another CPCHE link there every time,” she says.

Franca has been a Research and Policy Analyst with Peel Region for almost 8 years, and has been working with CPCHE since 2002, just about a year after it was formed, first representing the Ontario Public Health Association (OPHA) and now as the representative of Peel Public Health, a CPCHE affiliate.

“Having been involved in developing the CPCHE resources, there’s confidence on my part and within my organization in the information, what is being presented and how it’s being presented,” says Franca. “It’s very user-friendly visually, and the video is just awesome,” she says.

Peel Public Health nurses routinely take a copy of the CPCHE video disk with them when they visit moms, “popping it in their laptops and educating around it”, says Franca, and the message that comes back is “everybody loves it”.

Peel Region includes both the more dense suburban cities of Mississauga and Brampton and the largely rural community of Caledon. It’s also home to a wide diversity of people across the socio-economic spectrum including vulnerable populations.

“The fact that we can use the CPCHE materials and the video in one-on-one situations with the high-risk moms is to me really a huge success,” says Franca. “That we’re actually face-to-face with the population that we know is even more vulnerable to these exposures – that’s enormous.”

You may contact Franca Ursitti by email at