March 2017

Project Updates

We’ve been busy this winter! Below are highlights of VEGA’s main activities.

  • The child maltreatment (CM) systematic review and guidance statements are nearing completion. The evidence synthesis will be presented for review and GRADE deliberations by the CM Evidence Review Group on May 4th and 5th, 2017, at a meeting in Caledon, Ontario.
  • We have been working on the development of a VEGA “Practice Handbook” that evolves the intimate partner violence (IPV) and children’s exposure to IPV guidance (and, when ready, the CM guidance) into practice-ready, online tools and protocols. The primary focus is on identification and initial response – the “Recognizing and Responding Safely” approach discussed at the November 2016 National Guidance and Implementation Committee (NGIC) meeting.
  • We have been developing the VEGA curriculum, including reviewing curricular frameworks, professional and learner contexts, and innovative delivery methods that can support our ambitious goal of a tailored curriculum for use, and possible accreditation, across a range of service providers, at various stages of learning, and in a variety of settings. Based on positive feedback at the November 2016 NGIC meeting, we are proceeding with using serious gaming technology for interactive learning modules (see piece by Dr. Steve Wilcox, below).
  • We are engaged in ongoing knowledge mobilization, including presentations about VEGA to a range of policy and practice audiences. We appreciate the various links made to new audiences by our NGIC members – please keep talking about VEGA!


June 2017 NGIC Meeting

The NGIC will meet in Ottawa on June 14th and 15th, 2017. We will:

  • Review and discuss sections of the draft Child Maltreatment guidance (this is such a large topic, we will need to finalize at a subsequent NGIC meeting);
  • Present an initial outline and sample materials for the Practice Handbook “Recognizing and Responding Safely to Family Violence” (working title);
  • Discuss the evolving curricular framework and accreditation considerations;
  • Think through initial ideas for curriculum delivery, including interactive serious gaming scenarios presented by our partners, the University of Waterloo’s Games Institute.

Staffing updates

  • Congratulations to Dr. Jen MacGregor, VEGA Senior Research Associate, and Tim MacGregor, on the safe arrival of Theodore in late January 2017. All are doing well!
  • Welcome to part-time staff, Dr. Melissa Kimber, postdoctoral fellow at McMaster University, who is helping our Curriculum team, and Naji Naeemzada, research assistant and soon-to-be doctoral student at Western University, who is assisting Melissa. Thanks to Katherine Salter, doctoral student at Western, for her ongoing help with the systematic reviews, under the direction of Dr. Jill McTavish, full-time VEGA postdoctoral fellow. Finally, a huge shout-out to our administrative staff, Chris McKee, Program Manager, and Anna DeSimone, Program Assistant at McMaster University. We’ll also say farewell in May and big thanks to Alison Boven, Research Assistant.

VEGA staff involved with World Health Organization (WHO) child sexual abuse guidance meeting

From December 7th – 9th 2016, PreVAiL lead for the VEGA child maltreatment review group, Dr. Harriet MacMillan, along with Program Manager, Chris McKee, and Postdoctoral Fellow, Jill McTavish, attended WHO’s meeting of the Guideline Development Group (GDG) for Responding to Sexual Abuse of Children and Adolescents, held in Geneva. All three VEGA members were involved with important aspects of WHO’s guideline development process.

  • Harriet co-Chaired the meeting with Dr. Bernadette Madrid, Executive Director of the Child Protection Network Foundation Inc. The overall goal of the guidelines is addressing healthcare responses to child sexual abuse;
  • Chris McKee was involved in meeting with WHO’s child maltreatment group to ensure that the upcoming reviews on responses to other forms of child maltreatment are well coordinated between VEGA and WHO; and
  • Jill McTavish, acting as WHO Technical Advisor, presented VEGA findings about psychosocial interventions for responding to child sexual abuse. The data analysis for this report was completed by the McMaster Evidence Review and Synthesis Centre (MERSC).

GDG members offered expertise on a range of issues related to appropriate responses to child sexual abuse. Jill’s presentation about psychosocial interventions was well received, and these findings will be considered by the VEGA Child Maltreatment Evidence Review Group in May 2017. VEGA and WHO look forward to their ongoing coordination of efforts to complete the remaining reviews on identifying and responding to child maltreatment.

For more information

  • The announcement by the WHO describing the process for developing guidelines for the health sector response to child maltreatment can be found here
  • The systematic reviews being conducted by VEGA can be found in the PROSPERO register for systematic reviews here

VEGA co-lead, Dr. Harriet MacMillan, receives Order of Canada

VEGA co-lead, Dr. Harriet MacMillan, receives Order of Canada

Congratulations to Dr. Harriet MacMillan who received the Order of Canada from His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada.

Harriet was recognized for her exceptional leadership and clinical work with children exposed to violence. She is an internationally recognized leader and researcher in the field of family violence.

(Photo credit: Sgt Johanie Maheu, Rideau Hall).

Other News

VEGA team members receive funding for innovative iHEAL intervention study

In December 2016, a team of international researchers led by Dr. Marilyn Ford Gilboe, Women’s Health Research Chair in Rural Health at the Arthur Labatt Family School of Nursing at Western University, received $3,050,674 in funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada. The study, co-lead by Dr. Colleen Varcoe of the University of British Columbia, and Dr. Kelly Scott-Storey of the University of New Brunswick, will examine the impacts of the Intervention for Health Enhancement and Living (iHEAL) as an evidence-based approach to supporting urban and rural women who have separated from an abusive partner. Both Dr. Varcoe and Dr. Ford-Gilboe lend their expertise to VEGA as Curriculum Consultants and in their roles chairing the IPV Evidence Review Group (Ford-Gilboe) and the Trauma-and Violence Informed Care (TVIC) Leader Table (Varcoe). Also involved in the iHEAL study are VEGA leads Dr. Harriet MacMillan, Dr. Nadine Wathen, and Dr. Susan Jack.

More information is available here

Partner Perspectives

VEGA newsletters will now feature brief partner perspectives from VEGA partners. It is our hope that each contribution will offer insight into various components of the VEGA project, as well as the ways in which different health and service providers approach recognizing and responding to family violence within their own practice area. The Knowledge Mobilization team would like to thank Dr. Canning and Dr. Wilcox for their valuable contributions to this edition.

Dr. Christopher Canning, Mental Health Commission of Canada

Dr. Christopher Canning, Mental Health Commission of CanadaTell us about yourself and your work

My current title at the Mental Health Commission of Canada is Manager, Policy and Research in our Knowledge Exchange Centre. I’m an academic by training; I completed a PhD in the sociology of mental health at Queen’s University and a postdoc in the epigenetics of mental health at McGill. My career brought me to the MHCC in 2012 after I left the academic world to pursue work in mental health policy. Since then, I’ve contributed to policy development in the areas of recovery, child and youth mental health and youth engagement, emerging adult mental health, services and supports for immigrant, refugee, ethnocultural, and radicalized populations, expanding access to counselling, psychotherapies, and psychological services, and building the case for more dedicated mental health care funding in Canada.

My lived experience with witnessing family violence – and living with developmental trauma, anxiety and depression as a result – underscore my advocacy in the field. I’ve undergone various treatments and found tremendous success with EMDR in particular. I’m deeply and personally committed to creating meaningful system transformation that puts people with lived experience at the centre of services and supports.

Please share with us the impact of your work

In my various roles in the MHCC’s Knowledge Exchange Centre, I’ve had the opportunity to convene stakeholders from different sectors and jurisdictions, much like VEGA is doing, to help advance the conversation about mental health reform in Canada. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with researchers and writers to produce policy reports that synthesize the current state of mental health care in Canada in order to advance best practices and influence policy. And I’ve had the tremendous honour of being the staff liaison between the MHCC and our Youth Advisory Council. In 2013, I co-created a youth-written and designed version of the Mental Health Strategy of Canada. I love working with young people because I find it energizing and hopeful.

What are three practical tips that you would give to people in your field regarding care of adults and/or children who have experienced family violence or its impacts

  • Family violence and trauma do not constitute a psychiatric diagnosis. Traditional psychiatric interviews and approaches are often disruptive to people living with complex trauma histories. Services need to be designed non-judgmentally around the concepts of empathy and compassion. This helps prevent often circular traumatic effects of shame, hopelessness, anger and loss that can so easily be perpetuated in reductive bio-medical approaches to mental illness.
  • Trauma-informed care, and ultimately trauma-competent mental health services, must take into consideration the social, political and economic conditions in which people live. Often approaches to family violence and trauma individualize distress and suffering and place the burden of recovery on individuals. Reductive biomedical approaches to trauma and mental illness do this as well. Mental health system responses must be deeply and truly informed by the social determinants of health. This is so vital for understanding the historical effects of colonization and lived realities of Indigenous people in our country.
  • Trauma-and violence-informed care must begin with the idea that recovery from trauma is not only possible, but quite likely when services put the lived realities of people first, support people non-judgmentally, and build on people’s strengths and social supports.

Dr. Steve Wilcox, Wilfred Laurier University

Dr. Steve Wilcox, Wilfred Laurier UniversityHello, my name is Steve Wilcox. I am an assistant professor in the Game Design and Development Program at Wilfred Laurier University. And I’m also a contributor to the VEGA project, specifically in the area of professional training. Some of you may have seen me at the NGIC meeting in Ottawa last November where I talked about games, game-based learning, and professional training. I’d like to take this opportunity to expand a little more on those topics, including my own background as a research and game designer, and to discuss an upcoming game project currently being developed with VEGA experts.

My research focuses on the use of games to translate knowledge and practices between different communities and cultures. This focus goes back to my PhD thesis which was argued, in part, through a knowledge translation game. The game itself began with a meeting between myself and the food allergy researchers at the University of Waterloo. They had a robust body of evidence detailing the elevated levels of anxiety, stress, and bullying faced by children with food allergies. One article in particular struck me as especially powerful; it involved a series of interviews with food allergic children in which they described a number of recurrent experiences and practices that were unique to their situation. My research into feminism, epistemology, and rhetoric suggested that if these experiences and practices could be translated from one person to another, non-food-allergic children, parents, and guardians could better understand and thus act more compassionately toward those with food allergies. Thus began Allergies and Allegories.

I’ve since developed this approach into what I call evidence-based game design. That is, taking evidence on the best practices from a particular discipline, community, or profession and pairing it with evidence on effective game design and game-based learning. The result is games that function to translate knowledges between communities and cultures.

While games are but one tool in the knowledge translator’s tool box, they are crucial for a very particular reason: games are fundamentally about developing basic practices. Through careful design, games persuade us to develop strategies and tactics that are best suited to various situations. Typically, this is oriented toward developing winning strategies for the games themselves – how best to bluff with a losing hand in poker, or what properties return the most on your investment on Monopoly. But in the field of serious and purposeful games, successful strategies and tactics can be thought of as the best practices of a particular profession, and then games are designed around those practices. This is where my work intersects with VEGA’s mission. More specifically, while VEGA researchers are developing guidance and curriculum for various professional situations to recognize and respond safely to adults and children exposed to family violence, games and game-based learning can help disseminate those practices and facilitate their implementation into everyday situations.

Over the next several months, I will be working with Dr. Harriet MacMillan, Dr. Nadine Wathen, Dr. Susan Jack, Dr. Mark Hanson, and other members of the VEGA project to develop a game-based learning experience that teaches best practices for recognizing and responding to family violence. This will occur through various simulated professional and social interactions with a patient/client, providing learners with the opportunity to try out various approaches and discover for themselves which practices have the best outcomes in different situations. In short, the game will ask players to put VEGA guidance into practice in an organic, learner-centred pedagogical experience.

If it’s not already clear, I’m very excited to be working on this project. I’m also deeply thankful for the privilege to work with such a great team of dedicated and thoughtful experts. I look forward to what we’ll be able to create together!

Featured Resources

Kothari, A., & Wathen, C., N. (2017). Integrated knowledge translation: Digging deeper, moving forward, Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, Online

New Journal focuses on universities, communities and services working together

Research for All is a new open-access journal focusing on research that involves universities and communities, services or industries working together. It highlights the potential in public engagement for robust academic study, development of involved communities and research that has impact. Theoretical and empirical analysis features alongside authoritative commentary to explore engagement with different groups and their cultures.” More information available here.


  • May 16th – 17th 2017: Implementing Evidence-Based Practices in Mental Health and Addictions (Barrie, ON). Conference information available here
    • Nadine Wathen, VEGA co-lead, will be giving the opening keynote address, entitled “Family Violence and Mental Health: Mobilizing Knowledge to Effect Change“. Nicholas Watters, from the VEGA NGIC member organization, the Mental Health Commission of Canada, will give the closing keynote.
  • May 16th 2017: Trauma-Informed Practice with Indigenous Peoples across the Life Span (Thompson River University). Webinar information available here
  • May 24th – 25th 2017: National Forum on Infant, Child and Youth Mental Health: Promoting Innovation, Impact and Implementation (Calgary, AB). Forum information available here
  • Archived: Intimate Partner Violence Webinar Series (2015) via the Canadian Association of Social Workers. Available here