Generous gift helping CHEO’s youngest mental health patients and their families

Wednesday, June 22, 2022 – OTTAWA, ON – Kids have taken the brunt of this pandemic. Critical milestones and life events were missed. Mental health pressures – which were growing before the pandemic – have exploded. And, as with so many other services, kids are waiting longer than adults for assessment and treatment.

Given these harsh realities, today’s gift of $1 million to the Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health program brought a moment of pure hope during tough times.

Thanks to this generous donation from the Happy Roots Foundation, CHEO is able to pilot an Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) service designed to treat mental health problems in infants and children, from birth to age six. In the case of babies and infants, support and treatment often involve the entire family.

CHEO Psychiatrist, Dr. Katherine Matheson explained that some mental health concerns begin as early as infancy or pre-school. “We know that when we intervene early in a child’s life, we can make a difference in the long-term outcome,” said Dr. Matheson. “Mental health symptoms in a child aged birth to six may include anything from extreme tantrums, defiance, aggression, behavioural problems, anxiety, mood changes, trauma, and parent-child relationship difficulties. Our team can complete a specialized assessment and offer treatment or collaborate with our many community partners to meet families where they are at.”

What creates extra excitement around this gift is the far-reaching impact it will have for families in the greater Ottawa area. The funding will support a team providing clinical care, community training, and research. The program will be delivered by CHEO, and other members of the Kids Come First Health Team. Research on implementation of the service and evaluation of the long-term outcomes will advance the science of infant and early childhood mental health across Canada.

Michael Hone, Chair of the Kids Come First Health Team’s Infant and Early Mental Health Committee and Executive Director of Crossroads, adds: “This funding will mean trained professionals will then train pediatricians, family doctors and work with community mental health agencies like Crossroads so that more children and families can be helped earlier.”

Happy Roots Foundation co-founder and Board Chair Linsey Sherman-Zekulin says the organization is thrilled to present this transformative gift.

“We created Happy Roots Foundation to support parents in building strong, secure connections with their kids in the earliest years, which the research tells us is a crucial ingredient for building resilient brains and bodies,” said Ms. Sherman-Zekulin. “We’re excited to support programming at CHEO and across Ottawa that will, we hope, destigmatize socially-entrenched beliefs about infant and children’s mental health, and promote early intervention as a means of prevention.”

Infant and early childhood mental health has emerged as a vital area of specific focus at a time of unprecedented attention on mental health in Ontario. Eating disorders and hospitalizations have doubled in the last 27 months, and there has been a 30 percent increase in requests for mental health counselling and therapies for children just in Ottawa.

CHEO President and CEO Alex Munter says this donation will help respond to the growing need for early interventions and lasting mental health solutions.

“We know that when it comes to kids’ health every day matters and every delay has a cost – for the individual and the system. Many kids are hurting and we need more clinical services available to help them. This incredible gift is a vital investment in our youngest kids that will put them on a better path and help them lead their best life.”


For more information please contact:
Katrina Bussey
Director of Communications
CHEO Foundation
613 878-5904
[email protected]

Photo caption (L to R) Michael Hone, Co-Chair of the Infant and Early Mental Health Committee and Executive Director of Crossroads Children’s Mental Health Centre; Dr. Kathleen Pajer, Chief of Psychiatry, CHEO; Dr. Katherine Matheson, Staff Psychiatrist, CHEO; Alex Munter, President and CEO, CHEO; Linsey Sherman-Zekulin, Founder and Chair, Board of Directors, Happy Roots Foundation; Londe McClelland, CHEO mom; Mark Zekulin, Founder and Director, Board of Directors, Happy Roots Foundation; Monique Moreau, Executive Director, Happy Roots; and Scott Sherman, Director, Board of Directors, Happy Roots Foundation

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