Bringing the world together to address mental health in children and youth

- March 26, 2013

Dal researcher Michael Ungar.
Dal researcher Michael Ungar.

Growing up can be hard at the best of times. And in many situations, it’s far from the best of times.

From the local streets of Halifax, to the urban core of Toronto, to the refugee camps in Africa, children and youth in challenging environments face severe mental health threats. The programs available to them vary in quality and scope, and their successes not always shared widely.

That’s what Michael Ungar is looking to change. A professor in Dalhousie’s School of Social Work, Dr. Ungar is leading the creation of the Children and Youth in Challenging Contexts (CYCC) Network. He was awarded $1.6 million through the Networks of Centres of Excellent (NCE) Knowledge Mobilization (NCE KM) Initiative to get the network underway.

“There are great programs that help children and youth in Canada. However, there isn't a culture of sharing these among those who design and operate programs,” says Dr. Ungar. “There seemed to be a need to create a network where best practices could be easily exchanged and a national dialogue started that would bring together our local knowledge and scientific evidence for what works best for children and youth facing the greatest challenges.”

The CYCC Network was founded by three Dalhousie centres:

  • The Resilience Research Centre (RRC), looks at how children, youth and families cope with many different kinds of adversity – led by Dr. Ungar
  • The Centre for Research on Family Health (CRFH), focuses on innovative mental health delivery models – led by Dr. Patrick McGrath
  • The Centre for Foreign Policy Studies (CFPS) studies conflict-affected children and youth, including refugee youth living in Canada, in collaboration with the Child Soldiers Initiative (co-founded by Lt. General Romeo Dallaire) – led by David Black

Together, the three centres unite policy makers, mental health practitioners, NGOs, university researchers and others to share and adapt their knowledge to help children and youth in all kinds of challenging contexts.

Bridging best practices worldwide

“We've developed the CYCC Network as a collaboration where people can pull in ideas and push out best practices, by encouraging dialogue across disciplines and across countries,” explains Dr. Ungar.

“Imagine what happens when the NGO who demobilizes child soldiers in Africa starts thinking about what makes their work successful and shares it with Canadian NGOs that are trying to get youth to leave gangs. The Network can provide a forum for the exchange of great ideas for service delivery that will enhance the resilience of vulnerable children and youth.”

By aligning with the goals of many governmental and non-governmental organizations, the network can help address both the social and economic impact of mental health, which could be as much as $25 billion per year in Canada.

“Governments want to know what practices work and are looking for help on deciding what to fund, while community-based programs need the evidence to convince governments to support them,” says Dr. Ungar. “The CYCC Network is in the middle, helping both groups access the information they need to develop good policy and practice to support our children and youth.”

Dr. Ungar is the latest researcher to be featured in the DalPower series. Look for his ad in today's Chronicle Herald (A5).


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