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2020 – 2021

Families First virtual workshops offer timely mental health support

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By Jane Kitchen, Senior Communications Advisor
Originally published on Connections, the SickKids CCMH staff news site
Nov. 2, 2020

The Families First program at SickKids CCMH provides workshops for families who are registered clients, those on the waitlist for service, as well as in the general community. Through these workshops, clinicians have provided caregivers with knowledge and skills to support their children’s mental health; for registered clients, they provide a complement to clinical services offered at the centre, while for those on the waitlist, they provide some support or strategies that can support them while they wait for service. 

Clinicians from Prevention and Early Intervention Services, Individual and Family Services, and Intensive Services have contributed, including occupational therapists, a registered nurse, a registered early childhood educator and child and family therapists. With subjects such as When worries feel too bigLearning about ADHD, and The basics of cannabis, the workshops offer immediate help to families in need of mental health support. 

Prior to COVID-19, the teams managed about 10 onsite workshops a year, usually capped at about 20 or 25 parents of all age groups (under 6, 6 to 12, and teens). With the start of COVID-19, the workshops went virtual. Since April, the teams have already provided 16 workshops online. 

While the in-person workshops are usually interactive, online webinars still offer many benefits. 

“With the workshops delivered via webinar, it so much easier for parents to join, as they just come online instead of needing to drive to Sheppard or Jarvis for an evening,” says Julie Burdon, Manager, Prevention and Intervention Services. “We can also accommodate more numbers, with some webinars averaging 30 or more participants.” 

The program develops content based on the needs seen at intake – the Intake team captures information from incoming clients as to their areas of concern. The program also mines ideas from the parents themselves through their feedback surveys.  

Virtual offerings include new ones such as Coping with COVID-19 for youth aged 14 to 18 and workshops offered pre-COVID-19, such as ADHD, that were adapted to fit the virtual model. 

Nikki Low and Bethany Good in two separate landscape shots
Nikki Low (above, left) and Bethany Good

Nikki Low, RN, Intensive Services for Youth and Bethany Good, MSW, RSW, Child and Family Therapist, Individual and Family Services, ran their workshop The basics of cannabis and having effective conversations with your teen as a webinar.  

Low found a benefit with the adaptation. “When presenting via webinar, there is the ability for people to share their experiences and ask questions anonymously,” says Low. “This allows people to participate without fear of judgment.” 

“The presenters have been creative and adaptable throughout this process,” says Burdon. “Thanks to them for finding ways to share their knowledge in this new model.”

The Families First program has also developed in its presentation since the start of COVID-19. Instead of spreading the word through flyers and offering registration through email, the team now offers monthly e-newsletters with a registration button that links straight to a registration survey, allowing registrants to know immediately if they have successfully registered for a workshop. 

“We are growing our offerings and making it easier and more secure for families to register,” says Burdon. “The more we can support our families, the better.”