At any given time, an estimated one in five children in Canada will have mental health problems.
Limited health care resources mean that only 15–30% will receive timely treatment.
Strongest Families, a telephone-based treatment program, gives families quick access to care.
Moderate problems receive early attention to prevent more significant mental health problems later in life.
Dr. Patricia Lingley-Pottie
Strongest Families Institute
IWK Health Centre
Strongest Families is designed to intervene early before problems become much worse and more difficult to treat. So we're targeting the kids that generally end up on the wait lists, often for up to a year, the mild and moderate cases. What that does is it bridges the access gap so that we're getting help to the kids who need it.
The distance-based approach provides a number of benefits:
Care at times convenient for the family.
Dr. Patricia Lingley-Pottie: We offer treatment sessions at times that are convenient to the family. So our staff will work days, evenings and the occasional weekend, whatever is needed to meet the needs of those families. So, in essence, what happens is we find parents really stick with the program. We have a less than 10% drop-out rate.
Dr. Patrick J. McGrath
IWK Health Centre
Because it's a distance program, the families don't have to travel, so incidental costs of travelling and buying meals and parking expenses at a clinic could be quite considerable. And so we're able to reduce or eliminate those costs so that the families can get care very well.
Dr. Patricia Lingley-Pottie: Often, families and children resist going to face-to-face treatment because of a stigma that they feel is attached to that. And by delivering services to them in the comfort and privacy of their own home, virtually stigma is eliminated because nobody really knows that they're accessing services.
Dr. Patrick J. McGrath: Can you imagine if you're in a rural community and your car is seen outside the mental health clinic? Then, the next week you're probably going to be accosted several times in the grocery store or in the hardware store. 'Oh, I saw your car outside the mental health clinic.' Well, with our system, it's private.
The program is based on research evidence and has been clinically tested.
Dr. Patrick J. McGrath: It's based on the best scientific evidence. What we've done is first of all, we've combed the literature and found out what works. Then we brought that together into our Strongest Families program. And then we subjected that program to rigorous randomized controlled trials and found that indeed it does work. And that paper is just published, three of our trials are just published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Highly trained coaches are the key.
Dr. Patrick J. McGrath: The coach works with them, with material that we've sent them or on a website and the coach and the family work together to solve the problem that their child has. The coaches are the link between the information that is there. And the information is not rocket science to be honest. It's harder than rocket science to implement though, because what is really hard is to change your own behaviour. The coaches are the motivators, they're the problem solvers that teach the family, teach the parents, or in the case of anxiety, teach the parents and the child, teach them how to manage and how to change their behaviour.
Strongest Families is currently operating in Nova Scotia, Calgary and Thunder Bay.
Almost 300 children were treated in 2010, with 1,000 children and families helped so far.