Charlotte Waddell and The Children’s Health Policy Centre strive to connect
research with policy and practice to improve our children’s wellbeing
Charlotte Waddell, director of SFU’s Children’s Health Policy Centre (CHPC), believes passionately that society should invest in providing all children with the best possible start in life. She was inspired to establish the research centre after working with First Nations communities and observing the enormous impact of social determinants on health and wellbeing, particularly on children’s mental health. And more recently, in 2014 and 2015, she presented evidence to the BC Legislative Assembly’s Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth advocating for a public health strategy that puts children firmly at its core. After all, mental health problems are like the tip of an iceberg and can often be traced back to childhood difficulties, such as low family income and unstable environments.
In 2006, she joined SFU’s Faculty of Health Sciences where she holds the Canada Research Chair in Children’s Health Policy. She is also a practicing child and adolescent psychiatrist and works with young people in the child protection and youth justice systems. “These young people inspire and inform every aspect of my research and teaching,” she says. “They let me know in no uncertain terms what still needs to be done.”
The CHPC takes a collaborative, research-based approach to influencing practice and policy. In consultation with policymakers and practitioners, they produce the Children’s Mental Health Research Quarterly a publication that provides policymakers, practitioners, front-line workers, and families with the latest evidence on how to help children. Supported by the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development and available for free online, The Quarterly has covered topics ranging from preventing prenatal alcohol exposure to bullying to treating anxiety and depression in children. The Centre also posts its research reports online, documenting realities such as acute prevention and treatment service shortfalls for children and approaches to closing said gaps.
In 2011, the Centre embarked on the first Canadian scientific evaluation of the landmark Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) program, a program that provides intensive nurse home visits to vulnerable new mothers, starting in early pregnancy and continuing until children reach the age of two. In addition to improving children’s mental health and development, its goal is to also nourish the mother’s life circumstances. NFP was piloted in Canada at McMaster University, and now, through the BC Healthy Connections Project, the Centre is leading a large trial to evaluate how well NFP works in B.C. The team includes researchers from McMaster, the University of British Columbia, and the University of Victoria. Dr. Nicole Catherine, SFU Adjunct Professor and Mowafaghian University research associate, is its scientific director.
Supported by the BC Ministry of Health and donors such as the Mowafaghian Foundation and the R. and J. Stern Family Foundation, the BC Healthy Connections Project runs through 2021, with preliminary results to be posted starting next year. At every stage of its development, the project has involved close policy and practice collaborations with the BC Ministry of Health, the BC Ministry of Children and Family Development, Fraser Health, Interior Health, Island Health, Northern Health, and Vancouver Coastal Health.
Waddell has seen first-hand the difference early prevention and treatment can make in the lives of children and their families, and she remains as passionate about this work today as ever. “Children’s mental health problems are the leading health problems Canadian children face from infancy onwards and we still have a long way to go to address this,” she says. “Investments in children’s mental health are among the most important investments that any society can make.”
Dr. Charlotte Waddell is a child and adolescent psychiatrist with longstanding interests in health policy and population and public health. She holds the Canada Research Chair in Children’s Health Policy and is Professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at SFU, where she is also Director of the Children’s Health Policy Centre.
After her basic training at UBC, Charlotte worked with First Nations and Aboriginal communities across BC before going on to complete her MD, followed by residencies and post-graduate research training at McMaster University. She held faculty appointments at McMaster and UBC before joining SFU in 2006.
Charlotte’s research focuses on reducing mental health disparities, starting in childhood, by improving the links between research and policy. She is currently co-leading the BC Healthy Connections Project, a five-year randomized controlled trial assessing the effectiveness of the Nurse-Family Partnership program at reducing child maltreatment and improving children’s mental health and development in Canadian settings (for more information on the BCHCP, please see childhealthpolicy.ca). In addition to her research, Charlotte teaches at SFU and consults with policy-makers at the regional, provincial and federal levels. She also continues to work as a psychiatrist with disadvantaged children and youth — who inspire and inform every aspect of her research and teaching.