Patty Wellborn

Email: patty-wellborn@news.ok.ubc.ca


 

Child with sad mother

Most previous research on maternal depression has seen health outcomes include higher rates of psychopathology, behavioural problems and the increased risk of physical conditions such as asthma or unhealthy weight throughout childhood. But new research has determined that isn’t always the case.

While there have been many studies conducted on the negative impacts of maternal depression on both the mother and child, new research is examining why some children have different health outcomes than others.

UBC Okanagan researcher Dr. Sarah Dow-Fleisner, along with colleagues at Boston College, recently published a paper examining the health and wellbeing of school-aged children growing up alongside maternal depression. The study notes while the onset of depression often occurs during the postpartum period, it can continue or emerge throughout childhood.

Most previous research has focused on postpartum depression, when the children are infants, and the ways it can lead to poor health outcomes in children. Those health outcomes include higher rates of psychopathology, behavioural problems and the increased risk of physical conditions such as asthma or unhealthy weight throughout childhood.

But Dow-Fleisner’s research has determined that isn’t always the case. Her paper looks at the occurrence of maternal depression later in childhood and looks at the different patterns of wellbeing that emerged for many.

“Early childhood represents a sensitive developmental period, yet middle childhood is also marked by age-specific developmental milestones and vulnerabilities,” says Dr. Dow-Fleisner, an assistant professor in the School of Social Work and 2021 Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research Scholar Award recipient. “Among children with early experiences of adversity, there is a great potential for resilience that needed further exploration.”

The study, looking at the resilience of children who grow up alongside maternal depression, fills a notable gap in the current research, she says.

For her paper, data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a multi-year study of more than 4,800 children born in 75 hospitals in 20 American cities, was used. Data included maternal health, the child’s physical health, and psychosocial wellbeing outcomes from mothers and children from when the child was one, three, five and nine years old.

Dr. Dow-Fleisner and her colleagues looked for patterns of wellbeing across 10 indicators of child physical health, including asthma, obesity and psychosocial factors such as internalizing disorders and perseverance. The researchers identified five groups with distinct patterns of child health and then examined each group’s link with maternal depression.

“As expected, we found a thriving group that included children with positive outcomes across all 10 indicators of health and wellbeing. Admittedly there were a small number of children who fell into the poor health group, a group that had negative outcomes across all health indicators. And three groups where children showed a mixture of both positive and negative health and wellbeing occurring simultaneously.” says Dr. Dow-Fleisner. “This highlights how important it is to look at child health and wellbeing in a holistic way—if we look for resilience we may just find it.”

What was more interesting, she says, is that while some children experiencing maternal depression had a higher risk of poor outcomes, most were in the thriving group, suggesting there are likely important protective factors that help mitigate the risk associated with maternal depression.

This paper, she says, is an important first step toward developing clinically tailored services that support child development and address maternal depression. This would include further exploration of protective factors that help children and families thrive in the context of adversity.

She also suggests that because maternal depression can and does occur later in childhood, policy should support continued depression screening in primary care settings and ongoing treatment for maternal depression throughout childhood.

“Children experiencing maternal depression have varied outcomes, with most children in our sample emerging in the thriving group,” she says. “However, children experiencing maternal depression later in childhood were more likely to be in one of four groups with elements of poor health outcomes.

“Early identification and treatment for mothers experiencing depression can lessen the impact and potentially prevent problems across the life course of those children.”

The research was published recently in the Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research.

A group of residents watching the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park fire rages out of control

Residents watch at 2 a.m. as the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park rages out of control. Photo by Fern Helfand.

Dr. Mary Ann Murphy has peered into the lives of families who have lost everything in a wildfire. She knows what haunts them, and what they would do differently if they had to evacuate again. She also knows how they took those first steps to recovery.

Dr. Murphy is an associate professor in the Faculty of Health and Social Development’s School of Social Work, and also teaches in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences’ history and sociology department. Dr. Murphy has been examining the psychological and sociological impacts of wildfires on those who have lost their homes.

As the province grapples with the latest aggressive wildfire season and with the tragic loss of life and property for the people of Lytton, she searches for lessons from those who have survived wildfires in the past.

What kind of past experience from wildfires can we draw upon to learn about those coping with loss today?

Seventeen years ago, I led a UBC interdisciplinary study (Social Work, Photography, Nursing, Earth, Environmental and Geographic Science) with families who had lost their homes in the unprecedented Okanagan Mountain wildfire in 2003. That research led to a year-long exhibit at the Kelowna Museum and an article printed in the Hazmat journal in 2018.

This was one of the largest wildland-urban interface fires in Canadian history. This fire forever changed our landscape and our psyche, and deeply affected our communal sense of safety and security. We were interested in talking with families one year after the fire to find out how they were doing and to learn more about the depth and significance of the loss of cherished objects and their homes, as well as their experiences with evacuation and adjustment.

Why is it essential to understand these experiences?

While our museum exhibition has long been packed away, we vividly remember the families, stories and the trauma of those who — if they even had the opportunity — rushed to gather up belongings and protect their children and pets.

We still often think of these families, and have worked to impart their lessons to others, including a sense of what was really important. For us, the “new normal” refers to their fortitude in grappling with adjustment and recovery — lessons of particular significance as the frequency and severity of fires only increases. We hope everyone will take time to empathize with the trauma they experienced, as well as what the Lytton and other evacuees are currently going through — which is nothing short of a monumental disruption to their lives.

You talked about the sense of guilt. People desperately grabbed items as they were forced to evacuate their homes, but were saddened by what they had left behind.

There were important items that family members had forgotten as the ‘acute stress’ of the moment trumped logical thinking. Later, they berated themselves for not taking computers, hard drives, the oldest objects in their homes, photographs, Christmas decorations, favourite clothing out of the laundry bin, collections and souvenirs, art work and important papers.

We also recall the profound guilt felt by those who left behind simple but irreplaceable mementos that represented deeply embedded memories — children’s trophies and stuffed animals, family heirlooms and old, inexpensive keepsakes that most represented what they cherished about their home and history.

Those items were forgotten in haste, while items like tennis racquets and food were saved.

Any tips on what people should do to be prepared. And the items they simply shouldn’t leave behind?

The families we spoke with mourned irreplaceable photos and the Christmas decorations no one thinks about in the heat. Their advice was to prepare for fire season by making a list; taking a full video of every room in your house and pre-packing easy-to-grab bins with important objects and documents like passports and insurance papers, including the most treasured things in your home. Think about whether things like jewelry or art work are insured, and whether or not these are things you would want to take with you. Also, think about neighbours who may need assistance. Remember that you may have only a few minutes to leave.

Can you explain why the grief for wildfire victims is so profound?

The victims we spoke with talked about living with the incredible loss of what was more than a structure — as every comfort, every family routine and ritual, everything familiar was turned upside down. They struggled with the loss of something that many people work, sacrifice, tend to and care about — not a house, but a home — a place that reflects yourself, a welcoming safe harbour, a site of shared history, comfort, celebrations and traditions.

But, as we have seen over the past few days, hope and help will come from the most unexpected places. While Lytton homes and the townsite have been burned, we are reminded of the reassuring words of those who left messages for the families we talked with. “The most wonderful thing was hearing how your community came together. It can be both your darkest and finest hour.”

UBCO researchers say childhood memories can impact a social worker’s role when it comes to child protection services.

UBCO researchers say childhood memories can impact a social worker’s role when it comes to child protection services.

Childhood memories can be a trigger while working with a client

What happened in the past doesn’t necessarily stay in the past.

Especially, says a UBC Okanagan researcher, when it comes to child protection workers and any trauma they may have suffered as a child.

Dr. Sean St. Jean, a post-doctoral researcher in UBCO’s School of Social Work, recently published a study examining how the childhood experiences of a social worker might be triggered in their role of child protection practice.

“Child protection workers are acutely and chronically exposed to the trauma of children and families as they struggle with child sexual abuse, family violence and/or child neglect,” says Dr. St. Jean. “These professionals are called upon to empathically engage in these desperate situations in order to protect children.”

It’s up to the child protection worker to make complex, delicate and emotional risk decisions, he says, and they become a significant role in the lives of the families they interact with.

Research has shown there is a link between a child protection worker and their own trauma or their experiences and Dr. St. Jean says they are trained to recognize the triggers. However, his research shows, many child protection workers suffer in silence — doing their best to protect a child — while battling their own mental health issues.

Dr. St. Jean says the numbers are concerning. Some 70 per cent of social workers will have symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and 15 per cent of those will be diagnosed with PTSD. That number is higher for child protection workers.

“It’s a little bit scary,” he says. “Fifty per cent of people with PTSD will carry those symptoms with them for the rest of their lives.”

St. Jean, and his supervisor Dr. Brian Rasmussen, wanted to look at how child protection workers cope with their own childhood memories when it comes to child protection. And while Rasmussen says the adverse historical backgrounds of some child protection workers can influence their views of the work, it’s not all doom and gloom.

“With regard to child protection workers specifically, there are currently only two previous studies that consider the relationship between their childhood histories and their present-day professional function,” says Dr. Rasmussen. “And yet, what qualitative research we do have suggests that acute childhood experiences can have a significant and positive impact on the vocational lives of child protection workers.”

The role, says Dr. Rasmussen, comes with both a high exhaustion rate and high job satisfaction.

“People choose this career for all kinds of reasons and it’s common that social workers often have their own experiences as early helpers as a child or an experience of trauma,” he says. “Often, it’s empowering for social workers. They hope to redeem any negative things that happened to them as a child, perhaps even want to find meaning.”

Dr. St. Jean recalls the story of a child protection worker going into a home where an abusive client had consumed a fair amount of alcohol. The social worker was able to connect with the client and dissolve the situation. When asked how she made it look so easy, she replied that she had grown up in a home with a father dependent on alcohol. As a child, she learned ways to deal with impaired people and those skills served her throughout her career.

“Human trauma is like a super power and this woman uses her skills borne from her childhood,” says Dr. St. Jean. “But it can also be your kryptonite. We need to be able to recognize the experiences child protection workers bring to the table, and be ready to help them at any time.”

The participants in the study drew a strong link between their childhood memories and their social work practice. Primarily, there was a strong aspect of identification or empathy for the clients who triggered those memories. Although these child protection workers routinely witness all manner of difficult child protection scenarios, it was predominantly specific scenarios with which they had personal previous experience that appeared to move them emotionally.

For others, says Dr. St. Jean, there was simply the validation of knowing that they were making a difference for their families in ways that they themselves deeply comprehend.

The point of this research, he notes, is that people need to be mindful of the tough job and fine balancing act child protection workers face in their daily work lives. The mental health of all child protection workers should be considered as important as their physical well-being.

The respondents in his study were able to make sense of their memories in several ways — one being the reason for the satisfaction they found in their careers.

“Child protection workers deserve to be protected from emotional harm as they perform this difficult work,” he says. “It’s easy to look at a physical injury at work, but when it comes physiological injuries, we don’t have the same insight.”

The research was published this spring in the British Journal of Social Work.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

School of Social Work Director John Graham says that homeless people under the age of 65 have a mortality rate five to 10 times higher compared to the general population.

School of Social Work Director John Graham says that homeless people under the age of 65 have a mortality rate five to 10 times higher compared to the general population.

Forgotten population becomes more so during time of crises and disease

A team of UBC Okanagan researchers is looking at strategies that could help the homeless during a pandemic.

John Graham, director of UBC Okanagan’s School of Social Work, says while many populations have been targeted with guidelines to keep them safe, homeless people have been mostly overlooked.

While this research project began a few years ago, Graham says his team quickly turned their attention to the impact of COVID-19. His team looked at peer-reviewed publications, dating back to 1984, that examined how homeless populations were impacted by other highly contagious or communicable illnesses such as tuberculous, H1NI and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

“Those experiencing homelessness do not fare well in terms of general health and this risk rises during public health outbreaks,” says Graham. “Research findings have shown that homeless people under the age of 65 have a mortality rate five to 10 times higher compared to the general population.”

Before this research, Graham, who is principal investigator of the Kelowna Homelessness Research Initiative, says no one really knew how pandemics historically impacted services for the homeless sector.

“It’s important to remember that when public health officials make recommendations and response to a community they don’t necessarily take into account all populations,” he says. “Some of the methods of response are not easily transferable to the homeless populations — that’s partially because of their transient nature. But it is not unusual for homeless individuals to have a number of underlying illnesses, which could leave them more susceptible to virus obtainment, transmission and mortality.”

Postdoctoral researcher Jordan Babando says they looked at a range of journal articles from across the world and identified six key themes that particularly affect the homeless: education and outreach, structure of services provided, screening and contact tracing, transmission and prevention strategies, shelter protocols and finally treatment, adherence and vaccination.

“Those experiencing homelessness often live in low‐capacity shelters or transient locations that likely have no access to hygienic resources. This places them at increased risk of obtaining and spreading viruses in comparison to the general population,” says Babando.

Shelter overcrowding, poor ventilation and an accumulation of clients with predispositions to infection increase the risk factors for virus and also complicate detection and tracing procedure, he explains.

“These concerns provide extraordinary considerations for developing and implementing pandemic and outbreak response planning and protocols,” says Babando. “Trying to get the homeless population to come into the clinic for a vaccine and adhere to stay at home or social distancing regulations is difficult.”

The goal of this research paper, says Graham, is to help public health agencies and homelessness sectors formulate a pandemic response to homeless populations.

“We need to move the needle as quickly as possible when it comes to our homeless situation,” he says. “COVID-19 is extraordinarily significant for all of us, but most especially our vulnerable people. We hope these findings will contribute further to the dialogue help to end homelessness.”

The paper, published recently in Health and Social Care, was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.

While each person has different reasons for becoming homeless, a new study shows they learn through their interactions with different services to perform ‘as homeless’ based on the expectations of service providers.

While each person has different reasons for becoming homeless, a new study shows they learn through their interactions with different services to perform ‘as homeless’ based on the expectations of service providers.

UBCO researchers say there’s a tendency to play up vulnerabilities or deficits

New UBC Okanagan research has identified that street homeless people must learn to ‘perform’ in particular ways through their interactions with service providers to receive the help they need.

School of Social Work researchers Dr. Shelley Cook and Dr. Rachelle Hole recently published a study that used social capital theory to gain an understanding of street homeless peoples’ survival through their relationships with the system of services they depend upon.

The fieldwork took place in downtown Kelowna where a number of men and women identifying as street homeless, aged between 23 to 55, were interviewed by Cook. Contrary to the findings from earlier research on homelessness, Cook found people who live on the street depend on service providers as their main source of material and social support—not their relationships with each other.

While each person has different reasons for becoming homeless, Cook says they all learn through their interactions with different services to perform ‘as homeless’ in particular ways based on the expectations of the service providers. The fact that resources are often over-burdened, makes the need to get the performance right to be deemed appropriate for services, that much more important.

“In a situation where need greatly outpaces the ability of the service system—where there’s only so many beds or bus tickets available—performing those representations of homelessness aligned with the service setting is all the more important,” says Cook. “It’s a necessary survival strategy that people use to increase their odds of making it on the street.”

Hole says performances of homeless identity take on different expressions even between similar service organizations. Previous research has shown that homeless people not only recognize what representations of homelessness were being promoted through the organization and adapted their performance to reflect these indicators, they were also aware they were doing it.

“In trying to make sense of where they took their cues from for their performances, participants discussed how they were often encouraged by service providers to ‘play up’ their social support or health-related needs,” adds Hole. “The basis of performing involves presenting the appropriate level of need based on their perception of the service context.”

As stated by one participant—“it is about looking homeless, but not too homeless.”

While this improves the odds of homeless people getting the services they need, Cook says the fact that people feel they need to ‘perform’ in order to get appropriate services, has the effect of reinforcing a homeless identity.

“With competition for resources contributing to the need for these performances that are in part, a side-effect of challenges related to service capacity, the problematic dynamic will persist as long as capacity issues do,” she adds.

Cook says it is clear that those who live on the street people are always trying to fit themselves into a ‘service box’ in order to get the resources they need to survive. And it’s time for practitioners and policymakers to recognize how the systems of services provided actually reinforce that homeless identity.

While the research was done on the streets of Kelowna, Cook admits this issue is not exclusive to the region and is consistent with other communities. It comes back to how services are structured around different models of care underpinned by particular ideologies about homelessness and who is fundamentally deserving of care.

“I think it’s clear that we need to think about how the policies and practices aimed at addressing homelessness may actually be contributing to people’s subjectification as a homeless person,” she adds. “If we fail to recognize and have an appreciation for the ways in which the discourse underlying different approaches creates and reinforces this box, however inadvertently or unintentionally, we will continue to perpetuate homelessness.”

The paper was published last year in the Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment.

Learn more about how UBC Okanagan researchers collaborate to combat homelessness: ok.ubc.ca/okanagan-stories/finding-home

Hole was also named one of UBC Okanagan’s researcher of the year in 2019: news.ok.ubc.ca/2019/03/08/prizes-awarded-to-ubc-okanagans-top-researchers

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

New graduates celebrate their success after their convocation ceremony at UBCO last June.

New graduates celebrate their success after their convocation ceremony at UBCO last June.

Students presented degrees, top awards during two days of ceremonies

It’s the culmination of years of hard work, and the realization of hundreds of dreams.

This week UBC Okanagan celebrates its students as it hosts six separate graduation ceremonies over two days. More than 1,725 students will cross the stage, earning their undergraduate degrees while 215 students will receive their master's degree and 40 their doctorates.

“This year’s UBC Okanagan graduating class goes out into a world where sweeping changes are happening,” says Deborah Buszard, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal. “From geopolitics and the environment to the nature of work itself, rapid and radical change is all around us. As UBC graduates, we know our students have the intellectual tools to thrive in the face of change.”

The formal procedures begin Thursday morning with students in the Irving K. Barber School of Arts And Sciences crossing the stage in three different convocation ceremonies. Students in the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies will also cross the stage that day.

On Friday, celebrations kick-off early as Faculty of Health and Social Development students celebrate their achievements starting at 8:30 a.m. School of Education, Faculty of Management and School of Engineering students will be conferred their degrees in two following ceremonies.

“Congratulations to the class of 2019 for all they have accomplished,” Buszard adds. “I have every confidence their education and experiences at UBC Okanagan have positioned them for the brightest future.”

While student accomplishment is the heart of convocation, innovation, excellence and making a difference in this world are themes to be recognized. UBCO will present three honorary degrees this week.

Lewis Kay will receive a Doctor of Science at the 11 a.m. ceremony on June 6. Kay is a biophysicist known for his research in biochemistry and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. He is a professor of molecular genetics, biochemistry and chemistry at the University of Toronto and a senior scientist in the molecular medicine research program at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children.

Later that day, Dr. William Carpentier will be honoured with a Doctor of Science. Carpentier is an alumnus of the UBC Faculty of Medicine and was flight surgeon for NASA’s Apollo 11 crew. He is renowned for his contributions to the field of space life science. Carpentier will be honoured at the 1:30 p.m. ceremony on Thursday.

Friday morning, Olympic gold medalist Beckie Scott will be presented with a Doctor of Laws at the 8:30 a.m. ceremony. Scott was an 11-year member of Canada’s national cross-country ski team, retiring in 2006 as Canada’s most decorated cross-country skiing athlete. The three-time Olympian is widely recognized for advocacy for drug-free sport. She currently serves as chair of the World Anti-Doping Agency Athlete Committee.

Other accolades of note during convocation include the Provost Award for Teaching Excellence that will be presented to Biology Professor Andis Klegeris and Sally Willis-Stewart, a nutrition and physical activity instructor. The Killam Teaching Prize will be presented to Engineering Professor Jonathan Holzman.

The heads of class (top academic student) for this year include:

  • Governor General's Gold Medal: Ryan Hoiland
  • Lieutenant Governor’s Medal: Gabriel Dix
  • University of BC Medal in Arts: Victoria Scotney
  • University of BC Medal in Education: Tyler Tronnes
  • University of BC Medal in Engineering: Ethan McKoen
  • University of BC Medal in Fine Arts: Evan Berg
  • University of BC Medal in Human Kinetics: Janelle Smuin
  • University of BC Medal in Management: Zachary Bingley
  • University of BC Medal in Nursing: Elyse Acheson
  • University of BC Medal in Science: Alexander Garner

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca.

UBC Okanagan hosts Digital Media in Education Conference

What: Digital Media in Education Conference
Who: Award-winning digital media storytellers, social media experts
When: Wednesday, May 8 to Thursday, May 9
Where: The Commons, 3333 University Way, UBC Okanagan

Digital Media in Education ConferenceUBC Studios Okanagan has lined up experts in today’s digital world to share their knowledge at this year’s Digital Media in Education Conference.

The conference — titled Integrate: Expanding The Power Of Digital Media To Communicate and Educate — takes place over two days next week. Speakers include Emmy award-winning digital storyteller Michael Jorgensen and neurologist turned Youtube star Dr. Claudia Krebs.

There are a number of plenary and breakout sessions that will be led by digital media creators and specialists. All workshops are targeted towards people who are involved in writing, production or who work as a digital media professional. Attendees can also take away tips from the number of presentations including the Social Media Workshop sponsored by The Social School.

The conference is open to the public. A registration fee does apply. To find out more, contact event organizer Rosemary Thompson at 250 807 9832 or register at dme2019.ok.ubc.ca.

About UBC’s Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca.

Screening tools do generally work but research has determined that the Transracial Adoptive Parenting Scale is not accurate enough to determine what type of support sexual minority parents might need once they adopt a child.

Screening tools do generally work but research has determined that the Transracial Adoptive Parenting Scale is not accurate enough to determine what type of support sexual minority parents might need once they adopt a child.

A better measure is needed for gay, lesbian and gender minority adoptive parents

A UBC researcher says a tool to assess potential adoptive parents does not meet the needs of lesbian, gay or gender minority adults.

Sarah Dow-Fleisner, a professor in the UBC Okanagan’s School of Social Work, worked with Boston Children’s Hospital postdoctoral fellow Adeline Wyman Battalen and David Brodzinsky, professor emeritus at Rutgers University, to test the validity of the commonly-used Transracial Adoptive Parenting Scale (TAPS).

TAPS, which has 29 items, is a measure of empathy and understanding on issues such as discrimination, prejudice and cultural competence and is traditionally used to evaluate the readiness of becoming a parent through transracial adoption. Depending on where potential adoptive parents land on the TAPS scale, practitioners can then provide support in specific areas.

While TAPS is a commonly-accepted measure in clinical practice, Dow-Fleisner’s research says it misses the mark when it comes to sexual minority adoptive parents, specifically lesbian and gay parents.

“These screening tools are meant to be able to assess the needs or areas where parents can use some support in terms of understanding what it means to adopt transracially, or perhaps a child with special needs or a child with a history of trauma,” she explains.

Screening tools do generally work, she says, but her research has determined that TAPS is not accurate enough to determine what type of support sexual minority parents might need once they adopt a child. Her research shows the majority of lesbian or gay couples, about 60 per cent, adopt cross-racially—where at least one parent is a different race than the child.

“As a scale, it’s not sensitive enough. It’s generally reliable, but we wanted to test how valid is it across certain groups,” she says. “It’s as if you were to weight a person with a scale that only measures tonnes. You will get an accurate weight, but not the most precise or useful weight.”

Having accurate screening tools matters, she says, since sexual minority parents are more likely to adopt a child from the child welfare system, and that child often comes with a variety of special needs.

“Our hope is for sufficient screening tools and continued research to help reduce discrimination against prospective sexual and gender minority parents looking to adopt,” says Wyman Battalen. In 2015 there were about 30,000 children in the Canadian child welfare system legally eligible for adoption. However, many of those children will age out of the system before they are adopted. Aging out, explains Dow-Fleisner, can lead to an increased risk for homelessness, substance use, poor academic performance and suicide.

“Yet we have parents who are ready, willing and able to adopt,” she adds. “The screening tools we currently use have lagged behind the people we are serving. We need to develop a tool that measures adequately across all groups of parents.”

Their research involved 737 heterosexual, 102 lesbian and 64 gay adoptive parents from the Modern Adoptive Families Study.

“Sexual minority parents’ experiences in dealing with societal heteronormativity may lend itself to greater ease of entering a dialogue about race, discrimination, and cultural pride,” Dow-Fleisner suggests. “Yet, the screening tools we use have lagged behind the people we are serving and we need to develop a scale that is sensitive to the strengths and needs of sexual minority parents.”

The research was published recently in Journal of Evidence-Informed Social Work.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca.

Group of seniors walking in park

Study finds those with hearing loss, much more isolated than their peers

A pilot program encouraging older adults to get walking to improve their health has revealed unexpected details to researchers at UBC’s Okanagan campus.

Charlotte Jones, a professor with the Southern Medical Program based at UBC Okanagan, introduced a program called Walk and Talk for your Life four years ago. The program was developed at the request of, and in collaboration with, more than 300 low-income older adults. The community-based program, offered to seniors at a variety of residences, introduced walking and exercising programs that encouraged companionship.

While established to help keep seniors active, the primary goal was to combat loneliness and isolation and to improve fitness among older adults, explains Jones.

“Multiple studies have demonstrated that people who are lonely and socially isolated are at higher risk for a number of psychosocial and physical disorders including dementia, depression, physical decline, falls, hospitalization and premature mortality,” says Jones.

As Canada’s population ages, the issue of isolated seniors has mushroomed. Jones says each year more seniors are living alone, and this has inspired caregivers to solve the issue of secluded seniors. Jones has since held several different Walk and Talk programs, with different themes, involving more than 200 elderly people. Free to all participants, the program emphasises socialization and maintaining or improving functional fitness.

While the programs have been successful with many participants reporting feeling healthier, the researchers became aware of a new dimension.

“We sought to confirm our suspicions about an important subgroup of our participants, realizing that the quantitative data we had wasn’t telling the whole story,” Jones says. “It dawned on us that for those people with hearing loss in the Walk and Talk program, their loneliness didn’t decrease at all. Clearly, we needed to find out from them what to do to address their needs.”

According to a 2015 Canadian Health Measures Survey, 78 per cent of adults aged 60 to 79 years have measured hearing loss, and more than 77 per cent of those have undiagnosed hearing loss. While hearing aids and auditory rehabilitation may help combat isolation, Jones says it does not address declines in functional fitness like gait speed, musculoskeletal decline and increased risk for falls.

This opened another avenue of research for Jones and her team. Students from the Southern Medical Program, the School of Health and Exercise Sciences, School of Social Work, and psychology, biology and microbiology departments held a series of one-on-one interviews with seniors who had a self-reported hearing loss.  These participants identified several aspects of the program that could be adapted so the program would address their hearing-loss needs. The next step was the Walk, Talk and Listen study that included exercise, socialization and auditory rehabilitation in a more conducive acoustic setting.

This second pilot project involved seniors with self-identified hearing loss who participated in group exercise classes at the local YMCA along with auditory rehabilitation which included education about hearing loss, hearing technology and improved communication skills.

“Most of our participants said they enjoyed making new social connections and felt improved feelings of belonging and an increased motivation to improve their health and well-being,” says Jones. “By far, they felt the group socialization, student interactions and physical activity aspects were the most gratifying and beneficial parts of the program.”

The big takeaway, says Jones, is to remember to tailor all physical activity interactions for the target audience, in this case, people with hearing loss.

“There is a definite need for sustained programming in order to decrease loneliness and social isolation and its downstream negative influence on psychosocial and the physical well-being and mortality of our rapidly growing population of older adults.”

Jones’s research was recently published in the Aging and Mental Health journal.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world. For more visit ok.ubc.ca.

Panel showcases unique work underway that examines mindfulness, wellness

What: Mental Health and Resiliency Panel
Who: UBC Okanagan Wellbeing, faculty members
When: Wednesday, November 1, from 3:30 to 5 p.m.
Where: Mary Irwin Theatre, Rotary Centre for the Arts, 421 Cawston Avenue, Kelowna

Every fall UBC’s Okanagan campus hosts Thrive, a weeklong series of events for the university community focused on building positive mental health for everyone.

This year Thrive moves off campus to Kelowna’s downtown Rotary Centre for the Arts, where UBC Well-being hosts a panel event with faculty members who are working on several different aspects of mental health and well-being. The public is encouraged to learn about current research being conducted by UBC Okanagan faculty and be a part of the conversation on mental health at this free community event.

The panel showcases current mental-health and resiliency research:

  • Hilla Shlomi, the director of UBC's Social Work Clinic, and Harry Miller, clinical associate professor of psychology, will talk about UBC Okanagan’s Interdisciplinary Clinic
  • Karen Ragoonaden, assistant professor in the Faculty of Education, Jeanette Vinek, senior instructor of nursing, and Sheila Epp, associate director of nursing, will discuss the Mindfulness smartUBC Curriculum
  • Susan Holtzman, associate professor of psychology, will talk about her research and the issue: Can texting compete with “old-fashioned” in-person support?
  • Zach Walsh, assistant professor of psychology, will highlight his work with cannabis and mental health
  • John Tyler Binfet, assistant professor in the Faculty of Education, will discuss his BARK (Building Academic Resiliency through K9s) therapy program.

While the event is free, registration is required. People can register at: eventbrite.ca/e/mental-health-resiliency-research-panel-of-ubc-okanagan-researchers-tickets-38994186662

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning in the heart of British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley. Ranked among the top 20 public universities in the world, UBC is home to bold thinking and discoveries that make a difference. Established in 2005, the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world. For more visit ok.ubc.ca.