In 2008, Dr. Margot Latimer and Dr. Allen Finley of the IWK Health Centre Complex Pain Team noticed something startling; only an estimated 2 out of 800 children referred to the IWK in its 17-year history were Indigenous. Under-treated pain can lead to learning disabilities, heightened medical fears, anxiety, chronic pain, impaired development, poor school outcomes and inadequate health care that can continue later in life. Because of this long and short-term impact, it is critical that we work towards understanding these complex issues.
The Aboriginal Children’s Hurt & Healing (ACHH) Initiative is a research initiative which aims to improve Indigenous children’s healthcare experiences. The ACHH Initiative seeks to better understand the pain and hurt experience of Indigenous children and youth. By gathering individual stories and artwork the ACHH Initiative has begun to understand the cultural differences in both the emotional and physical pain experience.
To date, the ACHH Initiative has collaborated with four First Nations communities across the Maritime Provinces (Mi’kma’ki & Wolastoqey regions). Conversation sessions have been held with key community groups (children & youth, parents, Elders, teachers & health clinicians) as well as art sessions with children and youth. Results have shown a cultural stoicism regarding pain expression possibly stemming from a history of residential schooling. Beyond this, our research has highlighted a profound understanding of pain as something that is experienced on multiple levels - physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. Health utilization data has further supported the findings by identifying significantly more painful experiences than non-Indigenous children in a range of areas (dental, ear, throat, headache, injury, etc.).
Our work has allowed us to produce meaningful, community focused deliverables such as curriculum that is offered to university and clinical settings, practice guidelines for clinicians, creation of a Kids Hurt App, travelling art exhibition, training and mentorship for Indigenous young people and building partnerships to enhance community services. With the information gathered, the ACHH Initiative is addressing the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action by creating mechanisms to help support Indigenous children and youth in the healthcare setting.
Through continued support from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, the IWK Health Centre and financial donations, the ACHH Initiative will be expanding to additional communities across Canada. Through this process we will build our understanding of the unique pain experience of Indigenous children and youth and further develop knowledge translation tools to support health clinicians in creating a better health experience for Indigenous children.
For more details on the ACHH Initiative’s work please visit: www.achh.ca