$1.25 million for early childhood mental health care across Canada to improve outcomes for vulnerable children

Canadian Institutes of Health Research provides a necessary boost to promote mental health from a young age towards an initiative with foundational support from Kids Brain Health Network

VANCOUVER, May 24, 2023 – The Canadian Institutes for Health Research announced on May 4, a new investment of $1.25 million through the Mental Health in the Early Years (MHITEY) Initiative to support the community-based Infant and Early Mental Health (IEMH) Care Pathways project, Leading the Way. This initiative builds on previously funded work supported by Kids Brain Health Network (KBHN) and the Knowledge Institute for Child and Youth Mental Health and Addictions.

This new funding supports implementation science research that will enhance our understanding for improving systematic and equitable, evidence-based interventions for young children and their caregivers.

Dr. James Reynolds, Chief Scientific Officer for KBHN and a professor at Queens University, and Dr. Chaya Kulkarni, Director of Infant & Early Mental Health (IEMH) Promotion for SickKids Hospital, are longtime collaborators on childhood mental health initiatives. Now, they are teaming up with colleagues to implement the IEMH Care Pathways model over five years, assessing its success in promotion, prevention, and treatment services for early childhood mental health.

Since 2015, KBHN has provided foundational funding for infant mental health promotion, leading to the development of an IEMH Hub in 2020. This Hub is an online platform that provides comprehensive access to training, coaching, tools and resources to improve developmental outcomes in early childhood, while also incorporating Indigenous ways of learning to develop pathways of care. The Hub also serves as the foundation for the emergent MHITEY-funded IEMH Care Pathways project.

“Having a healthy childhood is so important for laying down the foundation for the rest of your life. We are committed to improving the mental wellbeing and health services provided to children in Canada. These projects funded today will help improve access to care and support the mental health of young children exposed to experiences, such as family violence, abuse, poverty, and low income. Congratulations to all the grant recipients,” said The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health.

Canada currently lacks a systematic approach to supporting the mental health needs of young children and their families.

“Practitioners may not always have the knowledge, skills and tools needed to recognize when mental health in young children may be at risk. In addition, the appropriate services for children at risk for poor mental health, are not always known to practitioners and family members.  As a result, families struggle and feel unsupported in their efforts to access early mental health support for their children,” said Dr. Kulkarni, explaining the importance of the IEMH Care Pathways model. “Consequently, early developmental risks that go unidentified can solidify into behavioural challenges and adverse mental health outcomes in later years, that will require significantly more effort from the child, family and services to address”, added Dr Kulkarni.

Decades of work led by IEMH Promotion and its partners have engaged organizations from multiple sectors along with community leaders and families in building the capacity to better address infant and early mental health concerns. “The IEMH Care Pathways model builds on ground-breaking research supported by Kids Brain Health Network,” says Dr. Reynolds. “The Infant and Early Mental Health Promotion group at SickKids Hospital created a model for implementing research into practice—which has been adapted into a community-led, capacity-building initiative to embed infant and early mental health practice into existing health, education and social services systems.”

Dr. Jennifer ZwickerDr. Sheri Madigan and Dr. Purnima Sundar also comprise the core research team for this project, alongside Dr. James Reynolds and Dr. Chaya Kulkarni. The research team anticipates that the IEMH Care Pathways model will demonstrate enhanced capacity within communities to support infant and early mental health, and to recognize and respond to vulnerability for poor mental health outcomes in the first five years of a child’s life.

“We are proud to celebrate this project, which boosts research that will ensure Canadian children at risk of poor mental health outcomes are identified, guided and supported as early and effectively as possible,” says Nicola Lewis, CEO of KBHN. “The project team demonstrates leadership within Kids Brain Health Network, and we value their expertise in the field of infant mental health.”

About Kids Brain Health Network (KBHN) is a national network that develops and harnesses scientific advances in technologies, interventions and supports with the goal of helping children with neurodevelopmental disabilities and their families live the best lives. The science of children’s brain health is making advancements and KBHN is bridging the gaps between these scientific advances and implementing solutions that directly address the needs of children and families. In delivering on its mission, KBHN is advancing federal responsibilities and priorities aimed at building a healthier future for all kids. More information is available at: https://kidsbrainhealth.ca/

For media queries, please contact:
Prachi Jatania, Communications Manager, Kids Brain Health Network