If you ask kids what it’s like growing up in Canada, the number one answer is that ‘it’s a race’. This race has to be fair; and we must cut the penalties for losing. That is our work. If we do our work with informed passion, we can make a huge difference. This informed passion requires both your hearts and your heads. – Dr. Dan Offord
On March 9th, 2023, the Spindle Team ventured to Hamilton, Ontario to join the Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) Vice President of Research Dr. Marc Jeschke, Dr. Stelios Georgiades – Director of the Offord Centre, and a small team of researchers and administrative staff in touring the Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre. We were off to an early morning start and excited to learn about the world-class research and clinical work conducted at the Offord Centre for Child Studies – a multidisciplinary research institute dedicated to improving the lives, health and development of children and youth, and home to 35 faculty and 60 staff researchers in the fields of psychiatry, pediatrics, nursing social work, public health, clinical epidemiology and psychology. Together, the Offord Centre members harness their expertise across four areas of focus:
- Child mental health and neurodevelopmental disorders
- Influences on child health and development
- Treatments, interventions, screening and services; and,
- Knowledge translation and community connections.
The tour of the Offord Centre is part of the information gathering exercise Spindle is conducting to advance our work towards developing a Strategic Research Plan for HHS.
During our engagement with the Offord Centre researchers and staff, we heard a great deal about the history of the institute, including its founder, the late Dr. David (Dan) Offord. Dr. Offord is widely credited for promoting the importance of tracking the trajectories of children’s lives, noting it was vital to improve their health and wellbeing – a stance he advanced with informed passion. This informed passion continues to permeate across the Centre and undergirds the leadership’s desire to be the best for those they serve and those who serve.
Our tour guides ushered us to the fourth floor where we visited the Autism Program spaces and the Offord Centre for Child Studies space. Along the way, several of the research faculty members and administrative staff in the group shared details on the impactful initiatives the Centre had underway – e.g., the Family Check-up Canada intervention program – and discussed the Extensive Needs and Research Collaboration Plan. We ducked into a few empty classrooms to take in the learning environments in which children were immersed; these were well-organized, serene settings tailored to meet children’s special needs and foster their development.
We then headed to the third floor which housed the Child and Youth Mental Health Program. The hallway made the perfect spot for us to meet a handful of researchers from the program and discuss a slew of projects they were driving. Our team was particularly impressed by the program’s recent accomplishment of using machine learning and responsibly-collected big data to develop a predictive model for anticipating future outcomes of their clients.
On the second floor, we were welcomed by researchers from the Developmental Pediatrics and Rehabilitation Program. Administrative staff and several researchers showcased the exceptional infrastructure in place for engaging their young clientele. The Motion Lab and small gyms – which included a basketball hoop and climbing wall – featured prominently here as key resources for effectively interacting with the children through learning and play. We also learned about how the Program is enhancing ways to integrate research with clinical services. For instance, their Research Navigator pilot initiative was successful at identifying opportunities for collaboration across various research coordinators representing different focus areas, and also helped increase patient enrolment in clinical studies. Speaking of coordinators, we also had the opportunity to meet teams of them and visit their workspace. We heard about the cross-section of research projects being conducted and came to appreciate the important initiatives these staff members are pursuing to enrich the development of Offord’s young clients and their families.
Reflective and Visionary Discussions, Meaningful Work
The tour concluded in a conference room where the Spindle Team, Dr. Jeschke, Dr. Georgiades, and other participants were joined by a few additional members of the Offord Centre. We all settled in to receive remarks from Bruce Squire, President of McMaster Children’s Hospital and VP, Women’s and Children’s Health, and updates from Dr. Georgiades and Dr. Jeschke. We were also treated to a roundtable of several researchers discussing their ongoing work.
Mr. Squires brought a celebratory tone to the meeting, sharing news of a visit later that morning from Ontario’s Minister of Children, Community and Social Services, Dr. Merrilee Fullerton and Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Sylvia Jones. The Ministers were coming to the Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre to announce a 3-year, $97 million investment to launch the Integrated Pathway for Children and Youth with Extensive Needs pilot program to be offered, beginning in April, at three major hospitals: McMaster Children’s Hospital Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario. Families participating in the program will connect to a team of professionals, including physicians, social workers and behavioural consultants who work together to provide tailored support based on the individual needs of the child or youth and their families.
Mr. Squires’ announcement dovetailed nicely with the overarching visionary message Drs. Jeschke and Georgiades shared with the group – one that centered around the value of harnessing collaborative efforts to integrate multi-disciplinary research and clinical services for the purpose of better understanding children’s mental health and developmental challenges in order to improve their health and well-being. That said, the leadership guided us through a thoughtful reflection on where Offord is now, what they’re doing well, and where they want to go and grow. Notably, Dr. Georgiades pointed out that lots has changed since the pandemic, including the Centre’s move to the Ron Joyce building, which brought a variety of local clinicians and patients together, but further away from McMaster University students. In order to build on Dr. Offord’s legacy and to achieve a collective impact, the Centre’s leadership recognizes the need to build up its infrastructure, operating capacity, networking and collaboration. Moving forward, Offord Centre will continue to focus on research and training excellence. The membership is committed to upholding equity, diversity and inclusion. Together, the membership will strengthen their communications, and knowledge translation and exchange. The team envisions advancing efforts at generating health evidence that informs and shapes policy and care, as well as advocating for the right programs for the communities they serve. Driven by informed passion, the Offord Centre is committed to making an impact.