SickKids researchers receive CIHR grants to mitigate impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic
Multiple research teams at The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) are among the recipients of federal funding to support research and projects that aim to mitigate the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on children, youth and families. Delivered by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the Operating Grants will support research into the pandemic’s effect on areas including children and youth’s physical health and well-being, mental health and virtual care.
The following SickKids-led projects were selected to receive funding to understand and mitigate the impact of the pandemic on children, youth and families:
Looking towards recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic
A team led by Dr. Catherine Birken, Senior Scientist, Child Health Evaluative Sciences and Staff Paediatrician, received a $150,000 grant to facilitate ongoing research to understand and monitor the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on multiple domains of children’s health and well-being. Using data collected before and during the pandemic through the TARGetKids! longitudinal study of children’s health and well-being, the researchers will study the ongoing impacts of public health policies on areas including health behaviours, physical and mental health, and school outcomes of children in the Greater Toronto Area. The research will also explore the role of parental stress and socio-demographic factors in the evaluation of the long-term effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on children and their families.
Informing a paediatric mental health recovery plan
Drs. Natasha Saunders, Associate Scientist, Child Health Evaluative Sciences and Alene Toulany, Associate Scientist-Track Investigator, Child Health Evaluative Sciences and Staff Physicians in the Divisions of Paediatric Medicine and Adolescent Medicine respectively, received a $75,000 grant to study the impact of the pandemic on early detection and treatment of neurodevelopmental and mental health disorders that typically emerge and are diagnosed in childhood and adolescence. Throughout the pandemic, widespread closures of in-person activities and learning for children and adolescents, as well as changes in access to health care, posed new challenges for early identification of neurodevelopmental and mental health disorders as well as symptom management among those who may have not previously sought care. Their study aims to understand the extent of delays to diagnosis and changing socio-demographic and clinical characteristics of children and adolescents with new neurodevelopmental and mental health disorders both before and after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Delivering early intervention to youth with chronic pain
A team led by Dr. Jennifer Stinson, Senior Scientist, Child Health Evaluative Sciences and Co-Director of the SickKids Pain Management, Research and Education Centre, was awarded $150,000 to continue work on an online portal to support youth with chronic pain. In 2020, the team created the online “stepped care” program called the Power Over Pain Portal. Through the stepped care model, youth with chronic pain can tailor their care based on their symptom severity, “stepping up” or “stepping down” to more or less intense care depending on their need. With this grant, they will be pilot testing the portal, which was co-designed with youth and health-care professionals to understand how the pandemic affected pain and mental health. This pilot-testing project aims to support effective implementation of the portal to improve youth pain and mental health.
Accelerating mental health support for at-risk neurodiverse children
Dr. Tricia Williams, neuropsychologist in the Division of Neurology and co-Director of the NeuroOutcomes Lab, received $150,000 to expand research into the I-InTERACT-North virtual parenting support program designed for neurodiverse children that aims to help improve family relationships, child behaviour and parent stress to better meet families’ needs during the pandemic. Their work will be an expansion of COVID-19 research already underway and will leverage an existing multi-phased project that will assess the impact of I-InTERACT-North and inform next steps in larger-scale implementation.