Charlotte Waddell and Nicole Catherine both gave brief talks May 4, 2021, at the first student-organized research conference for SFU public health and health sciences students.
The aim of the three-day conference was to give students the opportunity to present their own research, and to hear about the research of others in the Faculty of Health Sciences.
Waddell spoke about improving social and emotional wellbeing for all children, and on the public policies needed to reach these goals. And Catherine spoke about her work with the BC Healthy Connections Project and its examination of the Nurse-Family Partnership program.
What interventions can best help children facing mental health concerns in BC right now?
That was the topic Christine Schwartz addressed on a March 30, 2021 Zoom presentation to more than 100 senior leaders and clinicians from the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development.
An Adjunct Professor with the Children’s Health Policy Centre and lead writer for the Children’s Mental Health Research Quarterly, Schwartz was also co-author of a paper on these interventions published in October 2020.
As a clinical psychologist, Schwartz told the group that there are numerous effective interventions for both preventing and treating the most common mental disorders experienced in childhood.
“Every child who needs an effective intervention should be able to get one that works,” she told the group. But she added, “there are a lot of children who aren’t being addressed or they’re being given ineffective interventions.”
Starting with the most commonly experienced mental health disorder, anxiety, Schwartz said there is excellent evidence that cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is effective at both prevention and treatment. CBT is also effective at both prevention and treatment for depression. And for behaviour disorders — such as conduct disorder or oppositional defiant disorder — parent training programs are effective for both prevention and treatment.
The full presentation can be viewed here.
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.