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Indigenous-led program launched at U of T, targeting maternal and pediatric health

An Indigenous-led program co-organized by researchers from U of T's Dalla Lana School of Public Health will work on the health of pregnant women and their children

A unique Indigenous-led program co-organized by researchers from U of T's Dalla Lana School of Public Health will focus on improving the health of moms and their children in an effort to try and break the cycle of “Indigenous family disruption.”   

The Kind Faces Sharing Places project brings together researchers from U of T, a $2.6 million grant from Merck Canada, and social services and health care services provided by St. Michael's Hospital and community organizations. It's modelled after the Australian Stronger Families Program, which supports Indigenous families in Brisbane.

In Canada, the rate of Indigenous infants taken from their mothers at birth is at an all-time high. Indigenous infants are also two to four times more likely to die at birth compared to non-Indigenous infants.

“We must break the unacceptable cycle of Indigenous family disruption using Indigenous values and practice to deliver family and community-centred, culturally-appropriate care to Indigenous families,” said Janet Smylie, an associate professor at Dalla Lana who is also director of the Well Living House's Action Research Centre for Indigenous Infant, Child and Family Health and Wellbeing at St. Mike's.

Smylie is the primary investigator of the project, leading a team of Indigenous researchers and community partners that include U of T’s Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health, Well Living House, Seventh Generation Midwives Toronto and Nishnawbe Homes

“This partnership will leverage Indigenous knowledge and research methods to improve outcomes and create solutions that close the gap in maternal and child health between Indigenous and non-Indigenous families,” said Associate Professor Suzanne Stewart, director of the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health, based at Dalla Lana.

The research team will recruit 100 mothers and their families to take part in the three-year study where they will receive care from an interdisciplinary team led by Indigenous midwife Sara Wolfe at Seventh Generation Midwives Toronto.

Participants will be connected to mental health care providers, social service agencies and child protection organizations, as needed. They will also have access to housing transition support, traditional counselling and healing, individual and family therapy, treatment for addictions if needed, and support to navigate Toronto’s vast number of maternal health programs and services.

Project evaluation will compare results at one, two and three years into the study.

“Maternal health and well-being is a critically important issue that Merck has dedicated itself to improving, in association with many partners equally committed to the cause,” said Chirfi Guindo, president and managing director of Merck Canada.

“Working alongside some of Ontario’s top Indigenous health and research leaders, this new project marks an important step towards reaching our ultimate goal of improving maternal health and providing culturally-secure care for Indigenous families, both on a global scale and right here at home in Toronto.”