Nov 10, 2022

Virtual parenting program engages the SickKids parent community

NeuroOutcomes Lab

Photo: Dr. Tricia Williams (third from the right) and her team from the NeuroOutcomes Lab

Dr. Tricia Williams, Neuropsychologist and Associate Scientist at the Hospital for Children and member of the Leong Centre, provides an update on the Mental Health Support for SickKids Children and Families during COVID-19 Using Established eHealth Intervention study.  


The virtual parenting program, I-InTERACT North, was created in response to the needs of the SickKids parent community. It is an evidenced-based program that promotes positive family relationships during the early years, strengthens child social and emotional success, and provides education to parents about the developmental impact of their child’s medical condition.  The skills promoted have a well-established evidence base of efficacy in long term mental health outcomes of children across medical conditions. 


Progress & Family Engagement: Given the program was virtual, with Leong Centre support, we were able to pivot seamlessly and offer the program to additional families at SickKids during COVID-19. We gathered essential COVID-19 information related to impact data on family mental health and on program implementation (Williams et al., 2021, 2022).  This funding also facilitated program upgrades that actively included parent stakeholders (; Ford et al, 2022).

The program has received overwhelming feedback, one parent shared “Overall, I am beyond grateful to have been part of this program and our son's behaviour is improving with the new tools we now have.”  – Parent, I-InTERACT North

The Leong investment was leveraged into two successful CIHR grants and a new partnership with the Province of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Disorders (POND) Network. We also piloted a stepped-care program model that graduates therapy intensity by family need and preference. Parents described Step 1 as reassuring: “podcasts like this help to refocus my mind to see behind behaviour could be stress and anxiety.” Parents receiving direct coaching in Steps 2 and 3 were pleased with quick access to mental health service, 1:1 coaching, and how the program was tailored to their needs (“it helped me think of how I can adapt [the tools] to my kid’s special situation.”).

SickKids clinical referrals continue, demonstrating need and growing momentum. The next step is to implement this program across the hospital to ensure it is accessed equitably with maximal inclusion for all SickKids children and families.