Helping kids during COVID-19

Prior to COVID-19, CHEO was facing a surge in pediatric mental health cases. We had seen a 90 percent increase in mental health emergency visits since 2010. Layer on isolation and uncertainty from the pandemic, intensified by fears about a child's battle with despair and anxiety, and that puts this heartbreaking crisis into overdrive. CHEO is doing all it can to support these kids through virtual appointments and access to our inpatient unit. With your support, we have been able to:

  • Enhance crisis services in the Emergency Department on nights and weekends to support the growing number of children and youth arriving in need of immediate help;
  • Decrease wait times for consultations and counselling;
  • Provide parents with the resources needed to bond with their children as well as the tools to become part of the long-term solution to their child’s challenges;
  • Fund critical research that is asking kids and their parents how they are managing during COVID-19 and to identify better ways to support them. 

Providing better care faster

The Choice and Partnership Approach (CAPA) at CHEO

CAPA was launched in 2016 with the goal of reducing wait times and improving the quality of mental health care for our region’s children and youth. CAPA provides care by first identifying what the patient/family really wants and needs and what they can change in order to achieve it. Working in partnership, staff at CHEO and the family then select treatments that best suit a patient’s needs, while continuously optimizing the delivery system by analyzing data gathered daily about the entire population of patients coming through the door. This program, with your support, has allowed the team to see trends, train staff, and plan for the future. Here are some important highlights that are helping kids faster:

  • Since CAPA was put in place, mental health wait times at CHEO have been reduced from 200 days to just 30! But over time, these waits have crept up again, pointing to a need to expand services, especially during the heightened stress of COVID-19. To address this critical need, a new Rapid Response Service was developed to provide four therapy sessions within a few days for patients experiencing urgent and emergency mental health issues.
  • With donor support, the CHEO Mental Health Centralized Intake team has transitioned from a formal 4-page referral submitted by the patient’s primary care giver to a central telephone intake system. Now, the team receives a short 1-page referral and follows up with a call to assess patients using a standardized tool and clear decision-making criteria. Phone calls allow for a flexible combination of standardized questions combined with follow-up interviewing. Being able to speak with a Central Intake worker over the phone has already begun to receive positive feedback from families and youth. They feel as though CHEO has taken the time to connect and listen to their concerns. This in turn engages them in the process and enables them to accept the most appropriate and informed decisions about the services each child should receive.

Early intervention is key

Infant and Early Childhood mental health service at CHEO

The foundations for mental health are laid in the first few years of life. Children’s early experiences influence their brain development, which impacts the way children think, feel, act, and relate. For children who experience social and emotional difficulties at a young age, early intervention with specialized treatments is critical to preventing longer-term mental health challenges and to promoting resilience in the face of adversity.


CHEO is piloting an Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health service that is designed to treat some of our most vulnerable infants and children from birth to age six. Patients who have interacted with child protective services or who experienced neonatal complications have been identified as the first priority.


Before treatment, young children struggle with complex social, emotional, and behavioural difficulties. This might manifest as feeding and sleeping difficulties in an infant, difficulties bonding with a parent, significant worries, or aggressive and defiant behaviours. 


The main goals of intervention are to help parents develop a more positive and secure relationship with their child and be able to tune in to and meet the needs of their child in a nurturing and responsive manner. This change in relationship has a significant impact on the child’s emotions and behaviours, as well as on the caregiver's level of perceived stress.


Thanks to donor support from events like Virtual Punching With Purpose:

  • The physical set-up for therapy was completed - including the purchase of a sophisticated “bug-in-the-ear” sound system that allowed the therapist to coach the caregiver in vivo from behind a one-way mirror, a new camera system, and video audio equipment to provide patient observation and parent-child interaction therapy, and age-specific therapy toys. The same set-up was also used for CAPA and for residency training.
  • Training in Parent Child Interaction Therapy and Circle of Security was made available. These therapies are interventions specifically designed to enhance attachment security and improve the developmental pathway of children and their parents.

Helping to support girls and boys with eating disorders

Eating disorders, which can be seen in boys and girls, develop for many different reasons. Eating disorders may stem from underlying anxiety or depression, or from overwhelming feelings of powerlessness as young people move through childhood into adolescence and ultimately adulthood. Eating disorders are the third most common chronic illness among adolescent girls, with life-threatening consequences and the highest mortality rates of all psychiatric disorders. It is estimated that close to 15 percent of girls and young women will develop an eating disorder. If this illness is not treated quickly and successfully in adolescence, girls can develop a life-long, debilitating disease.


While females are more likely to experience eating disorders than males, there has been a noticeable increase in boys who are being admitted to CHEO with eating disorders. CHEO sees over 70 new assessments of eating disorder cases each year with many requiring urgent admission due to medical instability. As a donor, you are part of an invaluable community that ensures the best possible care for CHEO’s children and youth.


Thanks to your support, youth were able to benefit from extra hours of group therapy which are funded fully by donors. By adding these resources, patients are achieving their weekly treatment goals at a faster rate. Youth who participated in the extended hours of the Day Treatment Program were:

  • More likely to restore and maintain their healthy weight;
  • Reconnect with key adolescent milestones, such as school integration, peer relationships, and healthy bonds with parents;
  • Complete more school credits and keep pace academically with their peers through the increase in time dedicated to school lessons within the program.

These accomplishments will have a positive influence for the rest of their lives and would not have been possible without your support.



On behalf of CHEO’s Mental Health Team and the CHEO Foundation, we thank you for your generosity and support through Virtual Punching With Purpose 2021 event.  

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