May 8, 2024

CIHR funding supports 2 UCalgary-connected projects focused on child and family development

Nicole Letourneau hopes to improve lives of women and children impacted by violence, adversity and depression
Nicole Letourneau
Nicole Letourneau Nicole Letourneau

Two projects led by a professor with the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Nursing and Cumming School of Medicine have received funding for child and family mental health and violence research.

Dr. Nicole Letourneau, PhD, is spearheading both the Alliance against Violence & Adversity (AVA) Training Hub and Alberta Pregnancy Outcomes and Nutrition (APrON) study. 

AVA is a health research platform that trains scholars to work with community-based organizations to help improve the lives of girls and women affected by gender-based violence and early childhood adversity. 

APrON, meanwhile, is a long-term pregnancy cohort study which began 15 years ago with 2,200 pregnant women. The study examines what predicts mental health in mothers and best outcomes in children. It has now evolved to look at mental health in youth and what predicts depression and resilience. 

Letourneau recently received grants from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), with APrON receiving $1.125 million and AVA receiving $3.4 million.


Letourneau says APrON offers a treasure trove of information on predictors of child and youth health and development and the new funding will go a long way to keep the study going. She hopes to continue the study as long as she can, possibly even following the children of the current youth enrolled now. 

“The funding offers an amazing opportunity to figure out what predicts resilience and mental health problems like depression in youth here in Alberta,” says Letourneau, a registered nurse and Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (FRSC).

Nancy Mannix, the project’s principal knowledge user, as well as chair and patron of the Palix Foundation, says this research is important because it will allow for intervention in a more strategic way. Mannix and the foundation are committed to sharing the research findings with their extensive network. 

“This research will help us understand biological indicators to better identify and focus supports for individuals, families and communities,” Mannix says. “The ability to collect data from prenatal to young adulthood for children is especially important because those are the critical time periods when we can actually make a much larger difference in outcomes throughout the life course.”

Letourneau will also share her research findings with policy-makers. “We're planning to share recommendations that will help improve the services and support that families and youth get here in Alberta to prevent mental health problems in youth and promote their resilience,” she says.


The CIHR funding for AVA comes at a key time when family violence rates are at epidemic levels, says Letourneau. 

We are working to address the 250-per-cent increase in family violence and gender-based violence rates in Canada over the last 10 years that are resulting in homicide of girls and women. In fact, in Canada now, every one to two days a girl or woman is killed,” she says

AVA is supporting community organizations (across Canada) focused on prevention and supporting girls and women who have been affected by violence and adversity. These agencies are crucial to help girls and women at risk or affected by violence to overcome challenges and thrive. 

“AVA, because of its collaborative work between community and university, is focused on helping organizations identify the best solutions to address these terrible problems in Canada.”

Carlene Donnelly, chair of AVA’s oversight board and president and CEO of CUPS Calgary, says knowing Letourneau’s qualifications and commitment to the project is what made her want to get involved. 

Donnelly is confident AVA will create a big impact for community health and social services. 

“Knowing that AVA’s community trainings are spread across Canada and support organizations to deliver evidence-based innovations will be a game-changer,” she says. “To me, those innovations can spread best with consistent training, knowledge translation and common language. AVA gives us the ability to look upstream at this issue.

“I really think it’s going to have a long-term impact on transforming both community health centres and community health systems and social services in general. AVA addresses issues that require an evidence base; it requires really understanding how people can empower themselves and how support providers can best help those affected by gender-based violence and adversity.”

Mannix, who is also involved in AVA, says both projects will lead to understanding the role that adversity, positive supports, and skills and abilities play in building resilience for both parents’ and children’s lives. “This will help us better understand how we can apply interventions that will improve outcomes for kids and families in Alberta,” says Mannix.

Learn more about APrON and AVA.