September 2017

Project Updates

As the hazy days of summer start to fade, we can assure you that they weren’t lazy in terms of VEGA’s work! Since our June 2017 National Guidance & Implementation Committee (NGIC) meeting (see Meeting Summary here), we’ve been busy implementing suggestions from the Committee. Key accomplishments are summarized below.

Developing the VEGA Core Competency Framework

The curriculum working group, with guidance from members of the Education Leader Table, has been refining the knowledge, skills and attitudes that underpin “Recognizing and Responding Safely to Family Violence”. Five core competency domains that support practice for a broad range of healthcare and social service professionals have been defined. The five domains articulate 18 key competencies, related knowledge elements, practical skills and essential attitudes that together create a safe and respectful, trauma-and violence-informed approach to discussing family violence experiences with adults and children. The Framework underpins both the VEGA Practice Handbook, and the VEGA Foundational Curriculum and the evaluation approaches that will accompany these products. We will post the Framework document when final.


VEGA Game Module

Steve Wilcox has led the design of the initial game scenario, focusing on responding to a patient experiencing IPV who presents in the emergency department. Based on the core competencies, the scenario will move the learner through decisions that require the skills and knowledge to recognize and take appropriate action, based on the LIVES principles and a trauma-and violence-informed approach to care. We intend to have a prototype available for demonstration at the next NGIC meeting.


VEGA Animated White Boards

Two meetings have been held with Mike Heinrich (Director) and Tania Haas (Lead Writer) of Reframe Health Labs, to map out key concepts and scripts for the new “Why VEGA?” whiteboard, and the planned “TVIC Core Concepts” whiteboard. Sample (non-VEGA) whiteboards can be seen here; we plan to have versions for review and finalization at the next NGIC meeting.


Curriculum Evaluation Framework

We are excited to announce that Jonathan Sherbino and Meredith Vanstone from McMaster University’s Program for Educational Research Development (PERD) will be working with us to develop the curriculum evaluation framework that will accompany the curriculum. NGIC organizations taking up the curriculum have committed to evaluating its impact, and our PERD partners will assist in providing guidance on how best to do this to ensure robust process and outcome measures. We are all committed to our products having impact, and will provide tools to assist in assessing this.


Learner & Client Engagement

We are fortunate to have two McMaster medical students – David Freedman and Stephanie Napoleone – who are working with postdoctoral fellow Melissa Kimber to conduct focus groups to understand medical students’ perceptions of their current education in family violence. The plan is that this will next move to gathering similar data from nursing students. We welcome your input about collecting information from students across levels and disciplines.


Input for those with lived experience is crucial and VEGA is committed to determining how (and when) to best integrate this, while avoiding tokenism. A new Leader Table in Patient/Client Engagement will be led by Nadine Wathen.

Next NGIC Meeting
To allow time for the development of the above products, the NGIC Co-Chairs, Howard Bergman and Karima Velji, have agreed to move the next NGIC meeting to March 8th and 9th, 2018, in Ottawa. In the meantime, we will be engaging relevant Leader Tables and working groups to keep forwarding the work.

Partner Perspectives

Dr. John Pearce

Dr. Pearce, along with Dr. Kerry Mothersill, represent the Canadian Psychological Association on Vega’s NGIC

John PearceTell us about yourself and your work

I completed a BA in psychology at McGill University in my native Montreal and then an MA and PhD in clinical psychology at the University of Manitoba, with a focus on child clinical psychology. I was fortunate to land a job in the Child Abuse Program at Alberta Children’s Hospital in 1982. I’m indebted to the program’s flexibility that allowed me to pursue a number of clinical and research interests, including a focus on ecological and cumulative risk models of the impact of maltreatment upon child development, and their applicability to evidence-based interventions for children and families. Supervising talented doctoral students and psychology residents, teaching in the University of Calgary Clinical Psychology Program, writing, presenting at conferences in North America and abroad, and having the generous supportive of wonderful colleagues and mentors were added bonuses.

I retired in 2014 after 32 rewarding years in the Child Abuse Program and now provide consultations to Child and Family Services (CFS), our local child welfare authority. Rather than having direct contact with children and families involved with CFS, I provide consultations exclusively to CFS caseworkers, team leaders, and managers regarding viable assessment questions and interventions for children and their parents who present with complex problems. I also provide consultations to a program affiliated with CFS and four community agencies that provides brief interventions to foster parents.

Please share with us the impact of your work

Here’s an example. A central goal of the two consultation projects I’ve just described is developing and refining the capacity of frontline child welfare workers and foster parents to provide trauma-and violence-informed care to youngsters on their caseloads and in their homes. For example, foster parents are, in many ways, the primary agents of change for maltreated children in their care. How they think about the reasons for children’s sometimes mystifying, frightening and aggressive behaviours often influence their behavioural responses. Maybe an alternative explanation, such as “this is a scared child, not a bad child”, would lead to more empathetic and trauma-informed care.

VEGA has synthesized the foundational scientific and scholarly research and evidence that cut across our respective professions’ knowledge and expertise, while incorporating cultural traditions and the lived experiences of survivors that we in turn can apply to diver Canadian populations. It is an exciting project and I’m proud to be a member of the NGIC.

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

  1. Think comprehensively about how children and adults are affected by maltreatment and family violence. There’s no homogenous response that describes every individual who’s had these adverse experiences. Go beyond simplistic explanations – for example, the old and unsupported notion that every abused child will eventually abuse their own children. Identifying/assessing risk and protective factors, including the social determinants of health, is a more profitable and useful way of thinking about maltreatment’s outcomes. Furthermore, this approach can identify viable targets of intervention and sources of real strength that can be utilized in subsequent interventions.
  2. Have realistic expectations regarding outcomes. Although we can help many of our clients, there will always be some folks who, sadly, have been exposed to such a broad array of significant adversities and other toxic experiences that they may be unable to surmount them in the way that they, and we as their caregivers, would wish.
  3. Take good care of yourself. This stock recommendation is thrown always into the mix, but it’s of real importance for those of us working in this area. Although this area of practice can be so rewarding, it can be difficult, scary, and physically and emotionally depleting. We need to seek out professional and personal support.


Margaret Kennedy, MSSA (SW)

Ms. Kennedy, along with Ms. Sally Guy, represent the Canadian Association of Social Workers on VEGA’s NGIC

Margaret KennedyTell us about yourself and your work

As a representative of the Canadian Association of Social Workers (CASW) I am pleased to share with you my perspective on the issue of family violence which in the scope of VEGA encompasses intimate partner violence, child exposure to intimate partner violence and child maltreatment. Social workers are committed to preventing and eliminating violence as noted right in the CASW Code of Ethics: “Social workers uphold the right of every person to be free from violence and threat of violence.”

I have been an MSW for 40 years and the social work profession has given me the opportunity to develop a broad worldview on health and social issues. My career has included positions in child protection, mental health clinical practice, policy, planning, evaluation, consultation, and health and social services management. Most recently I held the positions of Director, Mental Health and Addictions, and Senior Policy Director for Vulnerable Populations, Health PEI. I also serve in a volunteer capacity in health, social services and religious organizations. My experience informs me that the issue of family violence is pervasive and requires a solid commitment on the part of many to address. This article is based on my most recent professional experience and as current board member of PEI Family Violence Prevention Services.

Please share with us the impact of your work

As Director I was responsible for mental health and addictions programs provided through multi-disciplinary teams. Social workers bring a holistic perspective to these teams by using an ecological approach which takes into account the complex interaction between an individual and their environment. Generally, when someone seeks mental health and addiction treatment they want help for the symptoms they are currently experiencing such as depression or anxiety. It is the role of the social worker to help identify the root cause or other associated problems that gave rise to their current condition. Through ongoing assessment with the individual and development of a therapeutic relationship the social worker and client are able to discover the work that needs to be done together. Both assessment and relationship-building develop over a period of time and with an intimate issue like family violence it may take several visits for disclosure to take place. However, this may not be well understood in organizations that are pressed move clients through quickly in order to reduce wait times. Social workers are well positioned to speak to this issue and advocate on behalf of their clients.

In my role as Senior Project Director for vulnerable populations I was tasked with developing a model that could be used throughout the organization for serving individuals who did not meet the criteria for a specific program or whose needs spanned more than one program. Not surprisingly, family violence surfaced repeatedly as an issue that programs were not sure how to handle and, therefore, often there was a non-response. I was pleased to produce a framework that enables service providers to work in an integrated manner to meet the individual’s needs. Interestingly, the national scan I conducted for this work revealed similar predicaments in most other jurisdictions throughout Canada; this finding supports the work of VEGA.

At present, I am a member of the PEI Family Violence Prevention Services Board and we have learned that there has been a shift in family violence in that it is becoming more subtle, more verbal and more emotional. It seems it is no longer socially acceptable for women to be seen with visible injuries. On a positive note, a concomitant change is that third parties are becoming more comfortable to ask if there is a problem and in seeking help on a person’s behalf.

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

  1. Learn about family violence. Social workers in all types of roles and settings will encounter family violence in their careers. Take advantage of continuing education opportunities to learn about this subject in order to be well-equipped in knowing how to proceed. CASW offers webinars on this topic.
  2. Listen, observe, ask. You may be the first person to make a positive difference in someone’s life. During ongoing assessment and when providing service, indicators of family violence may surface. Learn about resources in your community and make referrals to shelters, child protection and other agencies in your community for help.
  3. Advocate for continuing education and training on this topic in your organization and in your community. And, most importantly, advocate for your clients who are experiencing family violence.

Related Resources

As we develop specific tools for the VEGA Practice Handbook, we’ve come across resources that might be of interest for those working in family violence and related areas. While most of these tools are not specific to family violence and/or the Canadian context, they have been found to have potential relevance for either adaptation, or linking for related content. While we are not endorsing or recommending these tools, we present them here in case they’re helpful.

Upcoming Events

Sexual Violence Research Initiative (SVRI) Forum – September 18-21, 2014, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

SVRI will hold its 5th Forum, bringing together over 450 researchers, gender activists, funders, policy makers, service providers, practitioners and survivors from around the world who are working to understand, prevent, and respond to sexual and intimate partner violence. VEGA Co-Lead, Nadine Wathen, and Curriculum Content Lead, Susan Jack, will present work from VEGA and related PreVAiL Research Network Projects. Colleen Varcoe, who is a core content expert for VEGA, is a keynote speaker, and VEGA Evidence Review Group members, Dr. Claudia Garcia-Moreno and Ms. Alessandra Guedes, serve on the Scientific Committee.

Futures without Violence National Conference on Health & Domestic Violence – September 27-28, 2017, San Francisco, USA

This conference, held every two years, highlights research and practice. Several of our PreVAiL Research Network members will present relevant research, including IPV Evidence Review Group Chair and core content expert, Dr. Marilyn Ford-Gilboe.

Fore more information:

National Forum on Innovations in Infant, Child and Youth Mental Health – October 4-6, 2017, Calgary, AB

The Child Welfare League of Canada (CWLC, an NGIC partner) and Alberta Children’s Services are hosting the National Forum on Innovations in Infant, Child, and Youth Mental Health to share best practices and emerging evidence. The Forum will provide a unique opportunity to network and exchange ideas with leading edge thinkers, and to design and develop implementable solutions and strategies to address developments in infant, child, and youth mental health. VEGA Co-Lead, Harriet MacMillan, is a keynote speaker and will discuss VEGA’s work.

Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Conference – October 18-19, London, ON

Hosted by the Canadian Domestic Homicide Prevention Initiative with Vulnerable Populations, this conference aims to engage various stakeholders across policy, mental health, justice and social service sectors in the prevention, assessment, management and safety planning for domestic violence and homicide.

WHO’s 8th Milestones of a Global Campaign for Violence Prevention Meeting & PreVAiL – WHO Violence Prevention Alliance Pre-Meeting – October 18-20, 2017, Ottawa, Canada.

The Government of Canada is hosting the World Health Organization’s (WHO) biennial Milestones meeting in Ottawa this Fall. Harriet MacMillan and Nadine Wathen have been invited to give a joint keynote about the VEGA Project. This is an excellent opportunity to share our work with key violence decision-makers on an international stage, as well as compare best practices in educational design across countries.

In addition, our PreVAiL Research Network will co-host a pre-meeting, on October 18, 2017, with the WHO’s Violence Prevention Alliance (VPA); the agenda will feature PreVAiL projects in the areas of child maltreatment and intimate partner violence from experts who have contributed to VEGA’s evidence reviews, including Drs. Tracie Afifi, Andrea Gonzalez, and Susan Jack.

Those interested in the Milestones Meeting must request an invitation for registration, at:

For more information please contact Nadine Wathen (

Please feel free to send information about other events of interest to VEGA members so we can feature them in future newsletters.