From online summer camp to virtual therapy sessions, a Toronto children’s mental health agency will maintain some changes imposed by COVID-19 – fr

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From online summer camp to virtual therapy sessions, a Toronto children’s mental health agency will maintain some changes imposed by COVID-19 – fr


Running a summer camp, like most things that require face-to-face interaction, is a complicated task against the backdrop of a global pandemic.

But a Toronto children’s mental health agency has unlocked a new way to run its camp, usually based in Haliburton, practically in 2020. The camp is returning for another virtual installment this summer, and organizers plan to return some of that. permanent online camp experience.

The ongoing expansion of Camp Towhee is just one piece of a larger puzzle at the Child Development Institute, a more than 100-year-old agency that provides mental health care to 3,000 families and their children in the Greater Montreal area. Greater Toronto. This could lead to a virtual extension well beyond the pandemic of its services through a partnership announced Wednesday with global technology company Cisco.

Institute CEO Dr Lynn Ryan MacKenzie said some comments from families forced to switch to virtual care suggest that in some cases online care has been a better option for parents and children, as well. than for clinicians working with them.

Most mental health care providers were forced to bring their services online early in the pandemic – unfamiliar territory to many. Mental health care has since been viewed as an essential service by Ontario, and some have reverted to partially providing in-person care. But a few people prefer to go online, said Ryan MacKenzie, some for security reasons, others for the flexibility it offers.

At the institute, 43% of sessions were still offered near the end of 2020, and Ryan MacKenzie expects some of that to continue after COVID-19.

“We’re still in the early days, but we’re doing very well,” said Ryan MacKenzie.

With Camp Towhee, a program specifically for children aged 10 to 18 with mental health issues and learning disabilities, camp director Trish McKeough looked for creative ways last July to continue delivering this experience. to children, albeit virtually.

“We knew when we had to undo that, ‘Oh my gosh our kids need it more than ever, how can we even do that?’ McKeough said.

What emerged was the use of a secure virtual platform called Webex, created by Cisco, to run camp activities online. The kids were divided into groups based on what cabins would have been assigned to them for the real-life camp, McKeough said. Activities included virtual reading of Dungeons and Dragons, the platform for them to draw maps and share them online with their cabin mates.

McKeough said the online camp has been very successful and has led to the creation of weekly virtual sessions where campers can reconnect. Seeing the benefits for the kids, Ryan MacKenzie said his intention is to continue these sessions beyond COVID-19 as part of a real-life camp.

“The kids want to go back to camp and canoe and sleep under the stars – all the things you have to do in person,” said Ryan MacKenzie. “But what we were able to do in terms of follow-up throughout the year was something that would add to that in-person experience.”

One noticed benefit with the virtual camp, said McKeough, is the unique opportunity it offers children to share parts of themselves with others. Instead of telling their friends about their home life or their pets, for example, they could show them by video.

“The feedback from parents and young people shows how invaluable it has been to have this very intentional community created for the kids, and they feel like they really know each other after about 20 hours together online,” he said. she declared.

A permanent virtual offer to other programs is also being studied by the institute, where other advantages have been observed. For example, online therapy group sessions allowed clinicians to simultaneously check in with individual children via private chat, adding a layer of care that was not previously there.

It has also been beneficial for the institute’s intensive home and community service programs, which offer therapy to families, as the virtual sessions allow clinicians to see organic interactions between parents and children in real time.

Virtual care, McKeough added, is something some families have already requested before the pandemic for reasons such as convenience and lifestyle.

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Ryan MacKenzie said part of the mission of the Child Development Institute is to move to online services with intent, knowing that parts of it will likely stay there and could define the future of care. mental health. She recognizes that some parts of care is even better in person, but maintaining virtual care can give families more access.

“We will continue to need opportunities to find safe places and private places (to connect), and sometimes it’s good to have face-to-face contact,” she said. “I see this adds to the range of what’s available. “

Nadine Yousif is a Toronto reporter for The Star who deals with mental health. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government as part of its local journalism initiative. Follow her on Twitter: @nadineyousif_



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