April 28, 2022

Practice wisdom supports knowledge-building in landmark community partnership

Social Work's Angelique Jenney celebrates 5 years of innovation as Research Chair at Wood's Homes
Portrait of Dr. Angelique Jenney
Kloie Picot

As it nears its five-year anniversary, a first-of-its kind research partnership between the University of Calgary and Wood’s Homes is paying dividends for stakeholders on both sides of the equation — and promises another five years of innovation in children’s mental health.

Since being appointed the first Research Chair at Wood’s Homes in 2017, Dr. Angelique Jenney, PhD, associate professor in the Faculty of Social Work says that the position — the first community-based chair in children’s mental health in Canada — has enabled advancements in both research and practice, leaving both institutions better equipped to improve services for children, youth, and families.

“The practice wisdom that resides at Wood's Homes gets to come to the surface and supports knowledge-building activity,” says Jenney, who is also a member of the Hotchkiss Brain Institute and The Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research & Education at the Cumming School of Medicine.

“That practice wisdom knowledge can then be translated into supporting literature that other people will have access to — you don't just have to work at Wood’s to know these things.”

Domestic violence and child mental health

Consider the way in which a few of Jenney’s research initiatives play out in real time. As Wood’s staff repeatedly uncovered exposure to domestic violence in the case histories of their young clients, they began turning to Jenney for advice — understandable given that one of her areas of expertise is intimate partner violence (IPV).

“I started to think about, ‘I wonder how often is this an issue in child mental health? How often are we seeing kids in an intervention program for one thing and yet they have this other thing in their background?” says Jenney, explaining that she began to answer these questions by designing a retrospective file review of how childhood exposure to domestic violence shows up in case work.

It led me to an understanding that we can maybe see or note that children are being exposed to violence but, even after all these years — and we have about 30 years of research on the topic area — we still don't know a lot about how to intervene.

As a result, Jenney launched another project to determine best practices for treating children exposed to IPV by capturing skills demonstrated by leading practitioners in the field and then building a model through which future students and practitioners could learn how to deal with such cases more easily and more effectively. Fine-tuning the process, Jenney’s team brought in youth with the experience of growing up around violence and who had sought mental health services to give feedback on the veracity and effectiveness of those counselling simulations that her team had developed.

“This was a question that came from the practice world that went into research,” says Jenney. “Then I explored practitioner expertise to bring it back, and then involved the youth themselves — it's a complete full circle addressing an issue.”

Position benefits Wood's and students

Another of benefit of the chair position, which sees Jenney split her time between Wood’s and UCalgary, is that this integration of research and practice not only advanced the capabilities of Wood’s staff but the knowledge base of Faculty of Social Work students as well. Jenney says:

We often have students say 'Why do I have to take a research class?' I have five practicum students right now and they're all saying the same thing, ‘I had no idea that research could be clinical or that there could be a clinical connection to research.'

“One of [my] research assistants recently talked about how her understanding of research and practice changed just from being part of this process. That was one of the desired outcomes [of this chair]: how could we make research more accessible or understandable?”

Wood’s CEO Bjorn Johansson echoes Jenney’s enthusiasm, remarking that this is the first time since he’s been in this field that he’s felt such a “synergy” between research and practice. With funding for the chair position at the halfway mark, he’s confident that the next five years will see even more positive, proactive developments in addressing children’s mental health.

“The next stage is: How do we get to innovation? How do we really have an impact on practice?” he says. We call it the three R's ­— what's the right time, the right intensity and what's the right service for people in our community? I see Angelique as being part of the journey of answering those questions because we still live in a world where sometimes you have to be in crisis, things have to be really bad, for services to be available. It’s a real problem, and I think this Chair will help shift practice and research in a really good way.”