Calgary study focuses on child abuse victims’ brain development

A look inside the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre (CAC) in Calgary. Global News

Ongoing mental-health challenges faced by victims of childhood abuse will be the focus of a long-term study by the University of Calgary and the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre.

The university’s Mathison Centre for Mental Health Research and Education, along with the Kennedy centre, will conduct the study. In its initial two-year pilot stage, the study is to involve 240 children between six and 17.

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Half of the participants will have experienced childhood abuse while the other half will have not.

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“For 20 years I have been working to help people really understand the impacts of child abuse — making the invisible, visible. This research will help us do exactly that,” former NHL player Kennedy said Thursday.

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After the two-year phase, researchers hope to expand the study and enrol up to 1,000 children, who will be followed over 10 to 15 years.

Kennedy was the first victim of Graham James to come forward 20 years ago and detail the sexual abuse he suffered under the former junior hockey coach.

In 2013, Kennedy helped open the advocacy centre in Calgary. It brings together under one roof the services of police, social workers, medical staff, psychologists and prosecutors to keep young victims from having to constantly retell and relive their abuse.

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Since it opened, the centre has assessed more than 4,500 infants, children and youth who have suffered abuse. One-third of those children and youth have serious mental-health concerns, including self-harm, addiction, sexualized behaviour and suicidal thoughts.

Dr. Paul Arnold, a child psychologist and director of the Mathison Centre at the university’s Cumming School of Medicine, said the study’s results could provide a guide to care for abuse victims in the future.

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