When a family is faced with a child’s health concern, the common and natural reaction is to seek help from the appropriate medical professional who will hopefully set them on the right course of treatment. For children and adolescents with complex neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders, that course can be bumpy and lead to nowhere. That’s because their conditions involve multiple systems and are not easily identified or defined by a single professional. Alberta Children’s Hospital Neuropsychiatry Service (NPS) has developed an innovative approach that gives families the coordinated, integrated support they need to make a difference.
“The children who come to us have typically been treated for a condition, but the results are not optimal because there are other issues to address,” explains NPS nurse/clinician Leah Shalanski. “For instance, a child who is treated for epilepsy may have mental health issues that are being ignored. We take the labels away and treat the whole child.” NPS does not replace the medical professionals. They engage with the child’s entire support network to help optimize their well-being. “We involve the right medical professionals but also the school, counsellors, parents and others so that all the right people are working in a coordinated way to help the child.”
Complex disorders affect entire families in a big way. The NPS approach is centred on the family. “I have been given some insight into some of my own issues as a parent and given a different perspective on problems,” explains one parent. “I have been educated on medication and the overall mental health of my kids. This has helped with the emotional health of the rest of our family as well.” Even a first meeting can be an incredible stress relief for families who need understanding and support. In light of this, NPS has recently reorganized resources so families’ average wait wait times for a first meeting decreased from 60 days to seven days.
A first in North America, the NPS program is funded in part by the RBC Children’s Mental Health Project, a multi-year philanthropic commitment to support community-based and hospital programs that reduce stigma, provide early intervention and increase public awareness about children’s mental health issues. Since 2009, the RBC Children’s Mental Health Project has been RBC’s cornerstone “health and wellness” pillar, and to date, we have donated more than $6.5 million to more than 125 organizations across Canada.