COVID-19

Research Day Addresses Child Wellness and COVID-19

May 5, 2021

An inaugural Child Research Day, sponsored by SFU’s Faculty of Health Sciences, Developmental Trajectories Research Challenge Area on March 25, 2021, included presentations by Children’s Health Policy Centre director Charlotte Waddell and BC Healthy Connections Project scientific director Nicole Catherine.

Naomi Dove, Public Health and Preventative Medicine Physician in the Office of the Provincial Health Officer, provided the keynote talk on the topic of COVID-19 and public policy responses affecting children. As part of this, Waddell addressed child mental wellness and the impact of the pandemic.

Waddell said that nearly 800,000 Canadian children were already coping with mental disorders pre-COVID-19 — and this has only worsened during the pandemic. She also noted that some children are likely to be disproportionately affected, including those with neuro-diverse needs, those with pre-existing mental health conditions and those affected by adversities such as limited income and racism.

She also described how COVID-19 may particularly affect Indigenous Peoples, who have always shown great strength and resilience, but who are still coping with harms related to colonialism such as unsafe housing, lack of access to clean water and food insecurity – conditions that put children at increased risk.

Speaking later in the day, Nicole Catherine presented an overview of the BC Healthy Connections Project (BCHCP), describing the active  collaborations between research, policy and practice since the project launched in 2012.

She said that the BCHCP data — collected during research interviews with 1,500 mother-child pairs — represents a large ‘Data Repository’ for future students and mentees to examine healthy child developmental trajectories.

The BCHCP aims to examine the effectiveness of a nurse-home visiting program, Nurse-Family Partnership, in promoting child and maternal health and wellbeing in BC. Prenatal findings have shown reductions in substance use. Findings on child injuries, cognition, language and mental health, and on maternal life-course, will be available in 2021–2022.


Child health conference tackles topic of COVID-19

April 30, 2021

In a one-hour Zoom presentation for the McMaster University Child Health Conference on March 13, Christine Schwartz addressed the topic of COVID-19 and children’s mental health.

An Adjunct Professor with the Children’s Health Policy Centre and lead writer for the Children’s Mental Health Research Quarterly, Schwartz has a clinical psychology practice with children and youth and is co-author of a recent paper on COVID and children’s mental health.

Speaking to the group at McMaster, she advised that there are going to be a significantly greater number of children who will need mental health services following the pandemic, particularly with respect to anxiety.

“Children who experience socioeconomic inequalities are much more likely to develop emotional and behavioural concerns,” she noted, adding that data are already starting to show that needs are increasing.

In addition to her presentation, Schwartz also moderated a lively question and answer session.

The annual research symposium was founded in 2016 by a group of Bachelor of Health Sciences students at McMaster specializing in child health.


CHPC director provides messages of hope for faith leaders

March 31, 2021

Faculty members and students from the Vancouver School of Theology attended a Feb. 16, 2021 one-hour workshop about COVID-19 and children with Children’s Health Policy Centre director, Charlotte Waddell.

Aimed at future United Church ministers who will be working with children and youth, the workshop addressed how participants could be community leaders by providing messages of comfort to children.

Despite the current challenging situation in BC, Waddell advised participants to always give kids messages of hope. “Always be a role model — wearing a mask, washing your hands — but also point to the positive,” she said.

“We have excellent public health leadership and vaccines are getting out now,” she said. “We must tell kids we will get through this.”


Talk identifies risks, opportunities of COVID pandemic

March 16, 2021

Recently invited to deliver a Lager Lecture at McMaster University, Children’s Health Policy Director Charlotte Waddell spoke on Children’s Mental Health and COVID-19.

Speaking via Zoom on Feb. 24, Waddell began by describing the high level of children’s mental health needs prior to the pandemic.

Following the pandemic, she said, it’s expected that prolonged disruptions and diverted public resources will lead to additional hardships. Worldwide, somewhere between 42 and 46 million more children are expected to fall into extreme poverty with reduced access to basic healthcare, food and vaccines.

As well, she noted, school closures imposed by nearly 200 countries have affected 85 per cent — or 1.4 billion children — worldwide.

Citing a 2020 conclusion from the United Nations Waddell said, “Children are not the face of this pandemic but they risk being among its biggest victims.” It will be most damaging for those who are already experiencing the most disadvantage, she added.

Addressing the issue of cost, Waddell pointed out that 94 percent of provincial health budgets in Canada go to hospitals, drugs and physicians while only six percent goes to public health, including prevention.

“That low figure towards public health gives us a couple of clues about why we’ve had to scramble to respond to COVID,” she said — arguing that where government is prepared to spend more money on public health, it can realize great savings. In the US, for example, preventing just one case of a severe childhood problem such as conduct disorder can yield savings of more than $8 million CAD over a lifetime.

Waddell was invited to give the speech as a recent inductee to McMaster University’s Alumni Gallery. Waddell earned her MD from McMaster where she completed residencies in Family Medicine and Psychiatry. In 2006, she was recruited by SFU to take up the Canada Research Chair in Children’s Health Policy, Tier 2, and to become director of the Children’s Health Policy Centre.

The roughly 30-minute speech was followed by a lively question and answer session. The whole video may be viewed here.


Data gaps for children should be addressed as part of the COVID response

February 22, 2021

Children are not the immediate face of COVID-19, but they are the face of its future.

That is the key message of a recent article in the Globe and Mail newspaper, co-authored by Children’s Health Policy director Charlotte Waddell.

Written with senior academics from McMaster University, the Toronto Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Ottawa, the piece argues that unlike other countries, Canada does not have a national long-term study of children and youth. The need for such evidence on childhood health and well-being was urgent before COVID-19 and is even more urgent now.

But there is also some coincidental good news. Statistics Canada conducted a survey on children and youth in 2019, which means there are pre-pandemic data about how children were doing before COVID-19. (This survey involved a nationally, representative sample of more than 42,000 children aged 1 to 17 years across the country.)

The article argues that, “investing in a comprehensive follow-up survey represents our best opportunity to obtain accurate information about how the pandemic is affecting all Canadian children, and how some are being disproportionately affected.”

Such a follow up survey would also create a unique opportunity to assess how COVID-19′s impact may have differed across provinces and territories. As a result, it could also assess the impact of various public health and policy responses.