At-home program 'breaking the barriers' of traditional mental health care for kids
Updated: Sep 10
Acute At Home made possible by community support for Build Them Up campaign
Thanks to generous community support, construction of Calgary’s first Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health is now underway. Through a partnership among Alberta Health Services (AHS), the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation and the community, the Centre will begin providing new services for young people and their families in late 2021. Even before the Centre opens, donations to the Build Them Up campaign are making a number of crucial programs and research initiatives possible, including Acute at Home.
Mental health crises come in all shapes and sizes, and not all of them require hospitalization.
Supported by community donations to the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, Acute at Home provides clinical and therapeutic care for young people in their own homes, in their own communities. It supports families who need help but don’t need to be hospitalized, or who lack the ability to attend appointments. It helps parents navigate the healthcare system and will advocate on their child’s behalf at school. It’s a lifeline for families who often feel like they’re treading water.
“I really can't stress enough how important this program is, not only to my family but our community,” says Jenn, a Calgary mom whose son struggled with his mental health. Although he was well enough to be discharged from hospital, he and his family clearly needed help.
Helping kids heal in their own community
“This program offered our son a chance to heal from his trauma in the comfort of his home, surrounded by the people who love him.”
Comprised of nursing staff, family counsellors, social workers and therapists, Acute at Home is a nimble, on-call team that helps families with urgent mental health needs. The team works with experts in hospital emergency departments to identify families who meet the threshold for Acute at Home care. From there, team members meet with parents and young people where they’re at, whether it’s the family home at 7 p.m. or at the neighbourhood coffee shop.
Members of the team met with Jenn and her son at the Alberta Children’s Hospital and quickly followed up with visits to the family home at times that made sense for the family, often in the evening. Therapists provided parent coaching and family counselling. The team also met with staff from school to ensure teachers clearly understood his needs.
"I truly believe that without access to this program our family wouldn't be where it is today" — Jenn, Calgary mother
For five months the team worked with the family. When the time was right, Acute at Home connected Jenn and her son with an ADHD clinic that Jenn says was vital to his recovery and treatment. There were no further emergency department visits.
“I truly believe that without access to this program our family wouldn't be where it is today,” says Jenn. “It gave us the tools that we will be able to use for many years to come.”
Noorani Khalfan, Clinical Supervisor for Acute at Home, says the team’s success is due to its flexibility and ability to integrate within a family’s schedule.
“We meet families where they’re at,” she says. “If the child is not comfortable with sit-down appointments, then we’ll go for a walk and we’ll bring the family dog. If the family needs help at school, then we will bring everyone to the table. We will facilitate those discussions. We are breaking the barriers of traditional mental health and system care.”
With the added challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, community donations enabled the Acute at Home experts to rapidly redesign their care delivery model, becoming among the first in the city to make the switch to video and phone appointments. Kids and families responded positively to the change, grateful to receive the support they needed in a safe and timely way.
Mental health is a journey, not an episode, says Khalfan. It’s a test of strength for any family that walks it. However, even today when mental health is at the fore, stigma still exists.
"In order to be resilient, they first need to feel safe." — Noorani Khalfan, Clinical Supervisor, Acute at Home
Jenn asked her last name and the name of her son be left out of this story because she was afraid of what his school mates might say or think.
“This is why Acute at Home is so important,” says Khalfan. “Not every family is ready to discuss their issues openly, and in order to be resilient they first need to feel safe.”
Acute at Home was developed by the AHS Child and Adolescent Addiction, Mental Health and Psychiatry Program (CAAMHPP) in partnership with Wood’s Homes. The program is currently accessed through the Emergency Department at the Alberta Children’s Hospital and will expand to the Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health once it opens. The Centre will be part of a larger continuum of care that involves CAAMHPP and community agencies working together for kids and families.