Jun. 22, 2015

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(Calgary, Alberta)  June 22, 2015… On June 20th, 2013 Southern Alberta was overwhelmed with flood waters as rivers and creeks breached their banks spilling into streets and homes. Flood waters forced Melissa Palmer from her home and her community. She was worried for her two children, both by the catastrophe that was unfolding around them, and the uncertainty of their futures. Drs. Julie Drolet, Robin Cox, and Caroline McDonald-Harker are hoping to better understand the resiliency of children in order to bring peace of mind to families like the Palmer’s and strengthen communities when disaster strikes.

A new research project supported by Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions (AIHS) at the University of Calgary, Mount Royal University, and Royal Roads University aims to help children and youth during times of disaster. The Alberta Resilient Communities project (ARC) will work with children, youth and their communities to inform and strengthen child and youth mental health and enhance disaster preparedness, reduce risk and build resilience in Southern Alberta. ARC will help better understand the social, economic, health, cultural, spiritual and personal factors that contribute to child and youth resiliency while empowering them, their families and communities to build resiliency.

ARC community-based research will be undertaken in three ways.  Dr. Julie Drolet, from the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary, will look at key community influencers, such as schools, community organizations and social service agencies in children’s and youth’s lives. She wants to identify where current programs and services can be improved to meet the needs of communities during catastrophes. Dr. Robin Cox, from the School of Humanitarian Studies at Royal Roads University, will work directly with youth to engage and empower them as resilience innovators and leaders in their community. In partnership with youth, the research team will engage in creative process based workshops and design thinking to explore disaster risk reduction and resilience, build leadership and research skills, and innovate and implement resilience building strategies in their communities. Dr. Caroline McDonald-Harker, from the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Mount Royal University, will examine child-focused research activities. Working directly with school-aged children (ages five to 12 years), she will develop tools and resources that will both improve knowledge of resilience, as well as enhance recovery for children and their care givers.

“While children and youth are particularly affected by disasters because of a number of social and psychological reasons, they are also very resilient and can contribute positive changes in their families and communities after disaster strikes,” says Julie Drolet, PhD. “Our goal is to better understand resiliency in children and youth and how to support them, their families and their communities.”

“We are delighted to be a partner in this important research on a subject that affected so many Albertans so personally,” says Dr. Pamela Valentine, AIHS, Interim CEO. “Children are our future and healthy children are the heart of healthy communities. The ARC project will help strengthen and build robust, healthy, and resilient communities in Alberta and around the world.”

Background

On June 19 and 20, heavy rain in Southern Alberta resulted in a number of rivers overtopping their banks and flooding both urban and rural communities.  With damage estimates in excess of $6 billion, this disaster was Alberta and Canada’s most costly catastrophe.  In Alberta 32 states of emergency were declared. Over 100,000 Albertans were displaced. Not accounted for was the emotional, psychological, or health costs.

ARC community-based research will involve children, youth, parents, schools and a wide range of community-based and social service/health system agencies from Calgary High River, and the outlying Foothills area, including Okotoks, Black Diamond, Bragg Creek, Turner Valley and Nanton. There will be a particular focus on children and youth experiencing high levels of risk and/or social exclusion in the context of disasters.

Julie Drolet, PhD is an associate professor in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary. She has expertise in social work and disasters, community development, and social work methods. Dr. Drolet is a member of the Mental Health Strategic Clinical Network and the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, examining Albertans mental health needs and ways to improve the health-care system.

Robin Cox, PhD is a professor in the School of Humanitarian Studies at Royal Roads University. She has academic and professional experience in community and counselling psychology, disaster psychosocial response and disaster management, and community-based research. She is a disaster psychosocial responder with the BC Psychosocial Network. Her work has led to the development of collaborative networks of researchers, practitioners, and policy makers investigating and supporting child and youth resiliency during times of disaster.

Caroline McDonald-Harker, PhD is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Mount Royal University. She is an expert in the sociology of disasters, sociology of families, and qualitative research methods.  As a resident of High River, Alberta, Dr. McDonald-Harker has volunteered her time in the community teaching workshops on the impact disasters on children, youth, and families, and providing ways of coping.

The University of Calgary is a leading Canadian university located in the nation’s most enterprising city. The university has a clear strategic direction to become one of Canada’s top five research universities by 2016, where research and innovative teaching go hand in hand, and where we fully engage the communities we both serve and lead. This strategy is called Eyes High, inspired by the university’s Gaelic motto, which translates as ‘I will lift up my eyes.’ For more information, visit ucalgary.ca.

Mount Royal University is one of Canada’s top destinations for undergraduate studies. It offers small class sizes and personalized student services within a scholarly community renowned for academic excellence and a focus on teaching and learning. Founded in 1910, Mount Royal remains dedicated to the success of its students. Today, over 12,500 credit students take a variety of programs and courses including bachelor’s degrees and diplomas. More than 90,000 Mount Royal alumni are contributing to their communities world-wide.

Royal Roads University, a public university established in 1995, offers a progressive model of post-secondary education, delivering applied and professional programs through the faculties of management and social and applied sciences. The university offers its students a unique blended learning experience, combining online and on-campus instruction, as well as full time intensive on-campus instruction in undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees, certificates and diplomas. It also offers progressive executive, custom and continuing studies programs.

Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions supports research and innovation activities to improve the health and wellbeing of Albertans and create health related social and economic benefits for Albertans. AIHS provides leadership for Alberta’s health research and innovation enterprise by directing, coordinating, reviewing, funding and supporting research and innovation. The CRIO – Population Resiliency funds this research project through a partnership between AIHS and Alberta Health resulting from the Government of Alberta’s response to the 2013 flooding in Southern Alberta where $50 million was allocated to provide support to flood victims’ immediate and future mental health needs.

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