April 4, 2017 3:02 pm
Updated: April 4, 2017 4:38 pm

Children’s mental health program to expand in Atlantic Canada

A mental health program aimed at keeping high-risk kids in school and out of trouble is set to expand in our region. Global's Natasha Pace reports.

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A Canadian-made children’s mental health program will be expanding in Atlantic Canada.

SNAP – Stop Now and Plan was created by the Child Development Institute (CDI) in Toronto and has grown into an internationally recognized model for teaching both children and their parents.

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The program is designed for children aged six to 11 who have difficulty with emotion regulation and self-control who are engaging in disruptive behaviour such as rule-breaking, aggression and bullying.

“If we catch these kids early then we can prevent serious problems down the road,” said Leena Augimeri, the director of scientific and program development at CDI and the creator of SNAP.

She said the program helps children identify triggers and calm down.

“[If] something is happening that’s really getting you upset, a lot of these kids may be reactive and lash out, but SNAP actually teaches them to stop, [and] think about what’s going on in their body,” she said.

According to SNAP, up to 20 per cent of Canadian children experience disruptive behaviour problems. If left untreated, 75 per cent of these children are at risk of engaging in criminal behaviour, being incarcerated and suffering serious mental health concerns.

Augimeri said research shows there is something called “seven years of warning” before you see major problems arise in children.

“Those kids that are in court at 14.5 for committing a serious, violent offence, if they go back, they can see that that pathway that that child had, as young as age seven had major issues.”

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Dr. Jennifer Bernier runs BRAVE, a Halifax organization that first launched in 2014. They operate the first and only SNAP program in the world specifically for girls, who have their own set of issues the organization has to tackle.

“We know that rates of aggression are increasing for young girls, particularly when we look at cyber bullying. One of the other things we also know is that for girls who engage in bullying or aggressive types behaviours there is also a link to trauma, violence and abuse,” said Bernier.

Starting this year, the SNAP model will be available in other parts of Atlantic Canada. The goal is to help more kids stay out of trouble.

“The plan is to expand and to reach boys and other children in other provinces,” said Bernier.

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