Evaluating the impact of COVID-19 on child health in Canada

February 17, 2022

A McMaster University team is leading Canada’s first comprehensive investigation of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on child health, with a team from the Children’s Health Policy Centre as Co-Principal Investigators.

Together, we are building on Statistics Canada’s uniquely-positioned 2019 Canadian Health Survey of Children and Youth — conducted just prior to the start of the pandemic. In re-interviewing this representative, population-based sample of 45,000 young people and their families, we will be able to measure the impact not only of COVID-19 but also of pandemic responses on mental health, physical health, learning and social inequities.

This project is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and Statistics Canada, with additional supports from Children’s Healthcare Canada, the Public Health Agency of Canada, McMaster University, BC MCFD and donors. Initial results are anticipated in 2023–2024.

Centre members are also providing supports for an associated study of the impact of the pandemic on Ontario children, funded by the province of Ontario. Results are anticipated in 2022. Beyond this, we contributed to a Royal Society of Canada volume outlining safe ways for children to return to school during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Working to end child maltreatment

February 16, 2022

How can child maltreatment be prevented?

That was the subject of a 60-minute virtual talk, on February 22, 2022, by Nicole Catherine, scientific director for the BC Healthy Connections Project and Christine Schwartz, adjunct professor with the Children’s Health Policy Centre.

They were speaking with just over 200 practitioners attending a virtual conference titled “A multidisciplinary approach to child maltreatment — a path to healing,” sponsored by the Vancouver-based Sophie’s Place Child & Youth Advocacy Centre.

Speaking on the prevalence, risks and outcomes of child maltreatment, Schwartz told the group that one in three Canadians has experienced some form of maltreatment in childhood and that the COVID pandemic has only increased the risk. “Families being isolated in their homes, especially during periods in which schools have been closed, have come at a great cost to children,” she said.

Schwartz also discussed a systematic review of maltreatment prevention programs, citing strong evidence that child maltreatment can be prevented. She also noted that, home-visiting programs, like Nurse-Family Partnership, “provide needed supports to address family socioeconomic disadvantage, promote parenting skills and help children flourish.”

Nicole Catherine then summarized the early results of a recent BC-based scientific evaluation of the Nurse-Family Partnership. Findings of the BC Healthy Connections Project have shown that Health Authorities successfully reached the population that the program is designed to benefit and that it helped reduce prenatal substance use. Findings on child maltreatment and developmental outcomes, as well as maternal life course are anticipated later in 2022.

“To prevent child maltreatment, we must invest in programs that start early, in pregnancy and ensure that we reach underserved children and families who can benefit the most,” Catherine said.

Preventing the pain of childhood mental disorders

November 3, 2021

What are the most effective interventions for preventing mental disorders in children?

That was the subject of a  30-minute Zoom talk, Oct. 2/21,  by Christine Schwartz, adjunct professor with the Children’s Health Policy Centre. She was speaking with 60 members of the Health Officers Council of BC — a group of public health physicians who are either practicing in or closely allied with public health.

Schwartz told the group that roughly 12 percent of children experience mental disorders but that only 44% of this group, less than half, receive any treatment. “One of the key ways of addressing this service shortfall is to reduce the number of children needing treatment by having a greater emphasis on prevention,” she said.  “There are effective prevention programs for eight of the most common childhood mental disorders.”

Schwartz also discussed two success stories centred on delivering prevention programs in BC.  This includes Preventure, a program that can prevent problematic substance use and Confident Parents Thriving Kids, a coaching program that helps prevent child behaviour problems and reduces anxiety.

Children’s mental health services need to substantially increase

July 20, 2021

An estimated one in eight children in high-income countries have mental disorders at any given time, causing symptoms and impairment, therefore requiring treatment. Yet even in countries such as Canada, most children with mental disorders are not receiving services for these conditions.

These were the conclusions of a systematic review and meta-analysis by the Children’s Health Policy Centre recently published in the journal Evidence-Based Mental Health.

The team looked at high-quality studies on 12 of the most common childhood mental health conditions. Overall prevalence of any childhood mental disorder — before the pandemic — was 12.7% with anxiety, ADHD, oppositional defiant disorder, substance use, conduct disorder and depression being the most common. Among children with mental disorders, only 44.2% received any services for these conditions.

The paper discusses the implications of these findings, particularly the need to substantially increase public investments in children’s mental health services. Most important is ensuring that all children with mental health conditions can access effective interventions — when they need them. The needs are likely even more urgent during the COVID-19 pandemic. But addressing the pre-pandemic levels of need is a crucial starting point.

The entire paper is available here.