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 has now begun. 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 the fall of 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.

Social workers and therapists like Carol Coventry support young people in crisis through Acute at Home.

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.”


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.


Be part of the movement to make this Centre a reality.

Donate today.


Thanks to generous community support, construction of Calgary’s first Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health has now begun. Through a partnership among Alberta Health Services, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation and the community, the Centre will begin providing new services for young people and their families in the fall of 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 Facing Your Fears.

A program designed to help children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) overcome their anxiety is changing the lives of Calgary families.


Facing Your Fears is an established cognitive behavioural therapy geared toward youth with high-functioning ASD. Brought to Calgary by experts at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) and several clinics within Alberta Health Services, the program helps kids identify their worries and tackle them head-on.


'More crippling than the diagnosis'


It’s part of a five-year research project funded by community donations to the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation and headed by Dr. Carly McMorris, an assistant professor at the University of Calgary and a member of ACHRI.

Dr. Carly McMorris

“We know that children with autism are at a heightened risk of experiencing anxiety, which is often more crippling than the diagnosis – it significantly impacts kids and families,” says McMorris.


“With the families we have been able to enroll in Facing Your Fears, we are seeing dramatic improvements, not just in the kids, but in the quality of life for the entire family.”


McMorris is collecting data for her national study that aims to understand how best to deliver the program and which families will benefit the most.

The Hodge family is one of many who have benefited. Isabella was recently diagnosed with ASD, confirming suspicions long held by her mom, Jennifer. Her little girl experienced multiple fears that were ever-present and debilitating — fears that held Isabella back from living her best life as an 11-year-old.




Dismantling the fears, one by one


“In the day-to-day, when your child won’t have a bath on their own, when they won’t sleep in their own bed, when they’re afraid of people stopping by the house and you don’t know where it’s all coming from, it’s a lot,” says Jennifer.


Guided by a team of experts that included psychologists, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists, Jennifer and Isabella spent 14 weeks learning to understand Isabella’s fears and how to dismantle them, one by one.


The program included classes, workbooks designed for both the parent and child, deep breathing techniques, new coping skills and strategies for self-calming, as well as a reward system to encourage Isabella along her journey.


One of the tools that helps them track progress is a method called the Stress-O-Meter, which asks kids to gauge their anxiety on a scale from zero to eight. In the beginning, sleeping alone was a solid eight for Isabella. By the end of the program, it was zero.

Jennifer Hodge and her daughter, Isabella, says Facing Your Fears was transformative.

“We were very fortunate to get into this program. It was really, really helpful, “says Jennifer. “Will Isabella have new anxieties? Yes, of course. But now I know how to help her overcome them. We have the tools.”

“It’s so important for these kids to learn these coping skills for when they get out there into the world." - Jennifer Hodge, mom

McMorris says what they’ve seen with Facing Your Fears already is so encouraging they are growing the program to reach even more families in the community.


“Our goal is to expand this program to help kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders,” she says.


For Jennifer and Isabella, Facing Your Fears was an invaluable and empowering experience and Jennifer hopes the program continues so that more families benefit.


“It’s so important for these kids to learn these coping skills for when they get out there into the world. We are so grateful for the community support that makes this program possible,” she says. “And to know this is all part of research, that’s so important to us, to be part of something that’s going to help more people in the future.”


The new Centre will be one of the most robust research-intensive community-based mental health care facilities for young people in Canada, with a direct pipeline from discovery to care – all in one setting. In partnership with Alberta Health Services, the research initiatives involve several faculties at the University of Calgary, led by experts from the Owerko Centre at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute and the Mathison Centre at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute.

Be part of the movement to make this Centre a reality.

Donate today.


Updated: Nov 27, 2019

Calgary research funded by donations to Build Them Up campaign could reshape the way specialists care for children and youth with anxiety, depression


Thanks to generous community support, construction of Calgary’s first Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health has now begun. Through a partnership among Alberta Health Services, the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation and the community, the Centre will begin providing new services for young people and their families in the fall of 2021. Even before the Centre opens, donations to the #BuildThemUp campaign are making a number of crucial programs and research initiatives possible, including a trailblazing pharmacogenetics program.

When a child suffers from anxiety or depression, the right medication can be transformative. Unfortunately, finding the right medication – and the right dose – isn’t easy.


Medication can affect kids in different ways and there are some children who may not improve or will suffer an adverse reaction. For kids already trying to manage anxiety or depression, it’s not healthy. For their helpless parents, it’s heartbreaking.


Scientists now know answers lie in a child’s genetic makeup, and research at the new Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health will explore new frontiers of precision medicine that could reshape the way specialists care for kids.


Dr. Chad Bousman is a pharmacogeneticist within the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI) at the University of Calgary who studies how genes affect a child’s response to drugs. He specializes in medications used to treat mental health issues for kids and is conducting innovative research funded by community donations through the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation.


His project is Canada’s first evidence-based pharmacogenetic testing service in child mental health and is among the suite of priority research projects that will integrate with care at the Centre.

Dr. Chad Bousman studies how genes affect a child's response to drugs.

“Antidepressants take somewhere between five and eight weeks to work,” says Bousman. “If you have to wait that long to find out it doesn’t work, and then you have to move on to another medication and wait five or eight weeks to see if it works, you can see how that just isn’t helping patients.”


Two genes responsible for the way our bodies metabolize mental health medications have already been identified. Using DNA harvested from saliva, Bousman can analyze an individual’s genetic makeup and identify who will likely metabolize the drug properly, and who will not. Based on a young person’s unique metabolic profile, Bousman can then make informed recommendations around medications and proper dosage.

“There’s a lot of potential here for us to be a model for the world in how to do this, and it’s really exciting."Dr. Chad Bousman

Bousman says the data collected from willing participants at the Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health will provide scientists with invaluable genetic information that will enable future discoveries.


“We’re at the tip of an iceberg here,” he says. “Two genes are good, but there are many more that are involved in how people respond to mental health drugs. This will help identify them.”


“There’s a lot of potential here for us to be a model for the world in how to do this, and it’s really exciting,” says Bousman.


What’s exciting for researchers is transformative for families.

"I want this for everyone." - Naomi Pearce, 18

Naomi Pearce was heading into Grade 11 when she was diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Her doctor prescribed antidepressants and there was no change. She was put on another medication, however, the dosage was too low.


“It worked a little, but not enough,” says Naomi.


Naomi spiraled until one day another doctor urged her to seek immediate attention at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.


She was admitted and then moved to the adolescent mental health unit at Foothills Medical Centre where over a period of two months she began to heal.


That was two years ago. Today she is in college, “alive and thriving” and is encouraged by Bousman’s research.


“I want this for everyone,” she says. “Thinking back to my own experience with the trials and errors of antidepressants, it was frustrating. I was already struggling with so many other things in my life, and then to have to deal with ‘try this medication,’ and ‘try that medication,’ it was hard, and I still wasn’t getting better, so this is really exciting.”


Naomi Pearce, 18, is excited by Dr. Bousman's research and the hope it offers to kids and families in our community.

The new Centre will be one of the most robust research-intensive community-based mental health care facilities for young people in Canada, with a direct pipeline from discovery to care – all in one setting. In partnership with Alberta Health Services, the research initiatives involve several faculties at the University of Calgary, led by experts from the Owerko Centre at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute and the Mathison Centre at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute.

Be part of the movement to make this Centre a reality.

Donate today.