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.


Mental health education can start as early as kindergarten

February 16, 2021

Should mental health be taught in school? Yes, according to Charlotte Waddell, the director the Children’s Health Policy Centre, speaking in a recent interview with the Tyee.

Waddell said that anxiety — what it is and how to deal with it — would be a highly appropriate topic for all students from kindergarten to high school. “Anxiety would be a fantastic teaching module — for example, the physiological reactions that everybody has experienced, that are in some ways evolutionary and protective when there’s a threat.”

“Then you couple that with: What are healthy responses for managing anxiety? How do you know when it starts to tip into something that’s not as helpful for you?” Waddell said.

But Waddell also noted that only 44 per cent of young people experiencing a mental disorder in B.C. are getting access to treatment. And we wouldn’t accept such low treatment numbers for illnesses such as cancer or diabetes. So mental healthcare for young people has a long way to go.

As well, COVID is likely to lead to increases in anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress among youth who’ve been quarantined or isolated. This makes dealing with questions relating to mental health even more urgent, she says.

For details of the Centre’s report on COVID to the B.C. Representative of Children and Youth, see here.

Read the whole story on mental health education here.

Opportunities to help kids during COVID

February 12, 2021

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Canada has a unique opportunity to be a world leader in children’s mental health, according to Charlotte Waddell, director of the Children’s Health Policy Centre.

Speaking in an interview with the CBC public affairs radio program The House, Waddell said that nearly 800,000 Canadian children are already coping with mental disorders and this will only worsen with the pandemic.

Based on evidence from previous public health disasters, such as SARS and floods, “we anticipate the needs will increase dramatically — perhaps two to tenfold,” she said. In particular, anxiety, behaviour problems, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are all expected to increase.

But the good news is that Statistics Canada recently completed a high-quality survey of 45,000 children, just before the pandemic began. According to Waddell, this “trove of pre-pandemic data” gives us the opportunity to repeat the survey to compare pre- and post-pandemic numbers.

Such analysis will lead to better, more strategic support for children. “We have an ethical imperative to act,” Waddell says. “And if we don’t act, we run the risk of causing damage to a generation of kids.”

The complete interview with The House can be heard here.

Director named to McMaster University Alumni Gallery

December 15, 2020

Charlotte Waddell, the director of the Children’s Health Policy Centre, has been honoured as a member of McMaster University’s Alumni Gallery.

The Gallery currently includes the biographies and photographs of 427 interesting McMaster graduates who have made significant contributions to society on a local, national or global level. Members of the Gallery include the former Lieutenant Governor of Ontario Honourable Lincoln Alexander, actor Martin Short, and astronaut Roberta Bondar.

Waddell earned her MD from McMaster where she completed residencies in Family Medicine and Psychiatry. She also undertook a research fellowship at McMaster’s Offord Centre for Child Studies before becoming an assistant professor with the Centre. From there she moved to UBC for six years until she was recruited by SFU to take up the Canada Research Chair in Children’s Health Policy, Tier 2, and to launch the Children’s Health Policy Centre in 2006.

Her story can be seen on the McMaster website.