April 26, 2024

Celebrate innovation in child health and wellness with UCalgary

Creating Tomorrow event May 8 provides opportunity to engage with experts
Text on left of image reads "Creating Tomorrow; Big challenges, bold ideas". Image on right shows woman working with children

There is no doubt that child health and wellness is a major concern for Canadians, but what are we doing to improve it?  

Environmental exposure, chronic conditions, and stresses during early life have lifelong and sometimes multigenerational consequences. Research in child health and well-being has the power to transform the future for children, families and communities. 

In 2020, UNICEF ranked Canada 30th out of 38 wealthy countries in child health and wellness. Amidst this sobering reality, the upcoming Creating Tomorrow event hosted by the University of Calgary, All Kids Thriving: A Vision for Child Health and Wellness, emerges to explore how experts are aiming to improve this field across Canada.  

Celebrating the one-year anniversary of the launch of UCalgary’s One Child Every Child (OCEC) initiative, this event offers attendees a unique opportunity to engage with experts actively involved in projects aimed at enhancing child health and creating life-changing impact. Guests can expect to hear from a panel of experts, including; Dr. François Bernier, MD, director of the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) and project lead of OCEC, Joanne Weninger, executive director of ACHRI and OCEC, Dr. Michael Hart, PhD, vice-provost (Indigenous engagement) and Indigenous lead of OCEC, Mike Begin, Board vice-chair, Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, Kate Wong, BN’12, president and chair of UCalgary Alumni Association, and Jeryn Edwards, a local mother of two.  

There are many more UCalgary researchers dedicated to creating a better tomorrow for all children, one of whom is Dr. Melanie Noel, PhD, a registered clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychology, whose research and advocacy efforts are reshaping the landscape in child health. 

Understanding child health and wellness 

The work done by Noel, a professor at UCalgary and director of PEAK (Pain Education Advocacy Knowledge), delves into paediatric pain and how children’s pain experiences are affected by sociocultural influences. 

“I work with people around the world, including clinicians, diverse researchers, trainees — and, importantly, people with lived experience — to really understand why pain becomes a problem for some people early in childhood,” says Noel, who also holds the inaugural Killam Memorial Emerging Leader Chair. 

Her studies span acute and chronic pain in various populations, ranging from painful medical procedures to chronic pain conditions. Noel aims to unravel the dynamics of pain experiences in childhood, with an emphasis on the powerful role of parents and society in shaping children's pain trajectories across their lifespan. 

By investigating diverse facets of pain experiences, Noel seeks to empower children and families by fostering resilience and mitigating the transition to chronic pain, which affects one in five youth worldwide. 

The power of partnerships and community engagement 

Beyond her scholarly pursuits, Noel is deeply committed to advocacy and community engagement. She believes meaningful change can only occur through collective action and partnerships.  

She says partnerships and community engagement are absolutely essential. “Change only happens when we are not only informed, but moved, and when we are working collectively,” she says. “That's the only way that we can create a movement.” 

Noel highlights the importance of community connection and collective action in driving meaningful change. Amplifying voices and leveraging partnerships are necessary to address systemic barriers that inhibit child health and wellness. 

"That's the beauty of these partnerships, how we can amplify each other," she says. By working collaboratively, Noel aims to tackle the "grossly greater barrier" experienced by individuals who face structural inequities. 

The influence of lived experience 

Noel’s partners include organizations such as the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation and Canadian Institutes of Health Research, as well as people with lived experience. 

This includes Noel herself, as she emphasizes the impact of her own personal experiences, particularly as a single mother of triplets, on her research. Noel reflects on how becoming a parent, particularly of children who are neurodiverse and live with pain and chronic illness, has heightened her awareness of barriers and struggles within the health-care system, fuelling her empathy and driving her research interests.  

"When I was training, science was supposed to be something that was entirely objective ... but that all went out the door when I became a mother," Noel says. This shift in perspective has led her to listen to people with different lived experiences more attentively and empathetically, she says. 

Importance of social justice and compassion 

Driven by a commitment to social justice, Noel's research extends beyond clinical settings to address societal problems facing communities.  

"I'm studying why, when and for whom empathy fails, and how we can change society to be more compassionate," says Noel. This perspective underscores her holistic approach to child health and wellness, which extends beyond medical interventions to encompass broader societal transformations and community care. 

“We're increasingly interested in advocacy and understanding why pain disparities exist,” says Noel. “People are left out of not only research, but receiving pain care, which is a fundamental human right. And so we are really devoted to understanding those structural and societal factors and really integrating intersectional, anti-racist, anti-ableist lenses in our work.” 

Creating Tomorrow 

Reflecting on the upcoming Creating Tomorrow event, Noel expresses enthusiasm and optimism. She sees the event as a meaningful opportunity to engage with individuals who share a genuine concern for the well-being of children and families, and she is excited to be in attendance.  

Noel hopes that the event will encourage participants to take tangible action. She envisions a future where partnerships are woven into the fabric of communities, fostering a collective commitment to advocacy and transformative change. 

"We're going to be stirred, moved, inspired and motivated to join forces,” Noel says. 

All Kids Thriving: A Vision for Child Health and Wellness 

At UCalgary, we’re taking the lead in transforming child health. Join us May 8 for our second event in the Creating Tomorrow series where we will explore the relationships, partnerships and people involved in improving child health and wellness in Canada. This family-friendly event features a traditional round dance and storytelling, and offers the opportunity for everyone to share UCalgary’s pride in advances that will make Canadian kids the healthiest in the world. Register now

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