May 19, 2017

New Wood's Homes Research Chair in Children's Mental Health builds bridges to front lines

Angelique Jenney sees her role as narrowing the gap between research and clinicians
Says Angelique Jenney, the new Wood’s Homes Research Chair in Children’s Mental Health: “There are some who would say, ‘You only give them one chance, so they can learn.’ That’s not my belief system. How many of us can say we learned everything right the first time?” Photo by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary
Says Angelique Jenney, the new Wood’s Homes Research Chair in Children’s Mental Health: “There are s

When the job popped up in her email feed a second time, Angelique Jenney was starting to feel like maybe fate — or something close to it — was intervening. Then when the Dean of the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary emailed asking her to personally consider the position, she couldn’t ignore it again.

The problem was, Jenney already had a great job. She was the director of family violence services for Child Development Institute (CDI), an internationally recognized, multi-service child and family agency based in Toronto. Jenney had been with CDI for 19 years and her family, including her partner’s four teenagers, were happy and settled in Toronto. The real issue was that this wasn’t any job — it was in many respects a “dream job.” A job that married her academic passion with her passion for clinical practice, giving her the opportunity to put her skills to use in the front lines of children’s mental health treatment and perhaps help to advance evidence-based practice in Canada and around the world.

Jenney and her family found a way to make it work and as of April 10, she became the inaugural Wood’s Homes Research Chair in Children’s Mental Health. As it turns out, adapting to spring weather in the Rockies has been one of the most challenging aspects. “I have no idea how to dress for this!” She admits with a laugh. “I leave in the morning and it’s freezing, then by the afternoon it’s nearly 20C!”

Weather aside, Jenney says she’s thrilled to be here, especially as she gets a better feel for the incredible potential of her unique position and Wood’s Homes. “There are so many avenues where Wood’s Homes programs meet the client’s needs at every level.”  As an example, Jenney points out that every youth who shows up at a Wood’s Homes street service is provided with basic needs such as food, clothing, laundry, and shower. However, Jenney says that’s really just the beginning. “He or she is also provided with what can maybe best be described as ‘connection’ — the use of a phone or computer to call or email home, and the encouragement to do so. They’re also given the opportunity to speak with a counsellor, or a doctor if needed and a place to maybe find a jacket.”

Jenney says that the Wood’s Homes mantra: We Never Say No. We Never Give Up. We Never Turn Anyone Away, really speaks to her as an approach that all parents and caregivers should emulate. “That mantra is what good parenting is all about,” says Jenney. “There are some who would say, ‘You only give them one chance, so they can learn.’ That’s not my belief system. How many of us can say we learned everything right the first time?”

Providing practical, helpful advice to parents and caregivers

Jenney’s generous approach to children and families comes across loud and clear in everything she does. From the outset it’s clear she plans on being a different kind of chair, and one who very much sees part of her mission as a resource to help parents and caregivers understand the connection between what the research tells us and the way we raise our children. She hopes that in ways big and small, she can spread key parenting messages and dispel some myths that parents are taught, such as the idea that giving children the love they need will somehow ruin them.

“It's impossible to solve every problem, absolutely,” says Jenney. “But it's not impossible to determine a few key things that work really well, all the time. So it's not impossible to teach parents that you don't spoil children by hugging them. I heard a parent talking the other day about 'tough love' with a kid who doesn't need tough love. He needs some ‘regular love,’ because for a kid who has a history of trauma, whose heart has been broken a million different times by a million different people already, ‘tough-love’ isn't exactly going to speak to them in the way that you think it is.”

Wood’s Chair provides opportunity to bridge academia and practice

The position of Wood's Home Research Chair presents an opportunity that many within the field of children’s mental health research view as the future of research in the area. In essence, the Chair will serve as a bridge between academia and practice: distilling and providing knowledge that front line workers can use every day, while bringing the significant practice wisdom of the Wood’s Homes clinicians she works with back to lead researchers to ask the right questions.

“It’s an important collaboration,” says Jenney. “At the end of the day, the people who deliver the service are the front line clinicians; traditionally they are far removed from the people who determine whether interventions work, or what works for whom. My job is really to sift through the data and give front line workers what they need to know in a few sentences. I’m also here to find and measure innovative approaches that work so we can inform the rest of the practice community.”

It’s early days yet, however it’s clear that Jenney sees tremendous potential for the Chair to deliver everything that she, Wood’s Homes and the Faculty of Social Work were hoping the position might create: improved evidence-based practice and support for Wood’s Homes therapists, front line workers, teachers, social workers, doctors and community volunteers; integration between the university and community; reduced time-lag between when knowledge is created and when it can actually benefit the community; and, a vehicle to allow practice to inform inquiry. This is combined with the shared hope that this will have a significant impact on children and families here in Alberta, in Canada and internationally.

“I never wanted to be that far from helping families — you lose your ability to know what questions to ask if you're too far from that clinical world.”