FHS professor Maya Gislason has received a MSFHR 2020 Scholar Award to help her research the effects of climate change on children’s health.

FHS professor receives 2020 scholar award

January 18, 2021

A new year of climate engagement has started and FHS professor Maya Gislason, a recipient of a MSFHR 2020 Scholar Award, is strengthening her research the effects of climate change on children’s health. Her research project, Healthy Children, Healthy Communities: Co-Benefits of Children’s Action On Climate Change And Mental Health, seeks to understand how children’s health is being impacted by climate change, and if taking action on climate change through community projects strengthens and builds resilience in children. 

For Gislason, the award is not only an honour but also an indication that these populations and issues are of value to FHS and the FHS community.

“There’s support to do this project which is based on love and care and concern for current and future generations,” says Gislason.

Her team’s mixed-methods study focuses on working with communities and establishing mental health indicator assessment frameworks for children.

“Our methodological tools are community-driven and participatory, and informed by the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion and Indigenous ways of knowing and researching,” she says. “Unless we are thinking about the whole life cycle of an intervention from an equity perspective, we are going to have research that produces unintended consequences.”

Gislason advises those leading our current and future responses to climate change to use an intersectional lens, especially with consideration of children. Thinking and working intergenerationally – considering previous and future generations – helps us to have a sense of long-term accountability and responsibility in how we shape our thinking around any kind of climate intervention.

“All of our climate work should utilize a children’s lens; children are the greatest investment in what we do now because we are shaping their future,” she explains. “We will also do research that involves children’s participation in developing their own questions about climate change, designing the kinds of projects they want to help build and working to accomplish these projects.”

Gislason’s previous research has shown that being a passive bystander is disempowering. When people feel overwhelmed about climate change and do not know what to do, it can lead to living life as if the catastrophic effects of climate change are not just around the corner. She says that it is important to engage adults, and children, in a positive manner that helps them identify their worries and to take local place based action that is grounded in realistic hope.

“When we promote engagement, people see themselves as part of the solution and not the problem; they see themselves as being able to take action as an agent rather than a passive bystander dealing with something huge,” she explains.

Gislason hopes that her work builds better equity-informed data and evidence on climate change’s effect on children, and creates upstream community prevention supports around children’s mental health and communities. Furthermore, she advises us to listen to children, engaging with what they have to say, what they are worried about, and what they envision the solutions to be.

“It’s very disempowering to involve children’s voices and then not listen to them, and not change practice,” she says. “Let’s only ask youth for their opinion when we are actually ready to listen. An important aspect of this is to be thoughtful mentors and stewards of children’s engagement by laying the groundwork for meaningful engagement before we actually bring them into collaborative processes.”