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Through a collaboration between Indigenous communities and Infant and Early Mental Health Promotion (IEMHP), innovative models for strengthening knowledge and skill specific to infant and early mental health were created. These capacity-building programs engage both service providers and community members to collectively support infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Unique to these models is the embedding of Indigenous culture which guided content, structure and delivery of all elements.

The models draw attention to the important role both professionals and non-professionals play in nurturing the wellbeing of young children, and how that can build towards system changes. The initiatives focus on the strengths of service providers, families and communities while building an awareness that everyone has something valuable to contribute in supporting future generations.

Two innovative programs will be explored:

  1. Natural Helpers – An 8-week hybrid program designed for all community members to enhance knowledge about infant and early mental health, and build local capacity through increased interest and commitment to better supporting very young children.
  2. Nurturing the Seed – A program providing professionals with training and coaching on infant and early mental health, including the use of screening tools and developmental support plans that are responsive to a child’s needs in a family-friendly and culturally-informed way.

This session will examine the collaborative process used to build relationships and support the integration of infant and early mental health science through an Indigenous lens. We will also highlight preliminary evaluation results, and plans for future evaluation strategies based on learnings from the projects to date.


Lesley Watts (BSW, M.Ed. ECED) is a Senior Program Manager at Infant and Early Mental Health Promotion (IEMHP) at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. Lesley has extensive experience working with infants, children, families and communities with a focus on program delivery, design, management, and community development. Lesley is passionate about her work and a strong advocate for social justice, equity, and system-level change and responses that support all children and families, especially those who are systemically oppressed.

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