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.
Recommendations for public health surveillance relating to children’s mental health was the topic for Charlotte Waddell, the director of the Children’s Health Policy Centre, in speaking to students at the UBC School of Population and Public Health.
In her one-hour March 24, 2021 presentation, Waddell addressed the huge value of high-quality epidemiological studies, which give the most robust data on how well children are doing. These studies are robust because they tell us about all children, not just those who obtain services, or who sign up for studies.
What policymakers may do in the absence of such data, Waddell said, is rely on administrative data, such as records of physician visits. “The problem,” Waddell said, “is that most children with mental health problems don’t get any services at all so their needs are essentially unknown.” As well, families with greater economic means, may end up seeing private practitioners such as psychologists, but those data are not captured either.
The workshop suggested approaches for identifying and using high-quality epidemiological data to measure children’s mental health, worked through some case studies and included a lively question and answer session.
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.
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.”