Patty Wellborn

Email: patty-wellborn@news.ok.ubc.ca


 

A group of residents watching the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park fire rages out of control

Residents watch at 2 a.m. as the 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park rages out of control. Photo by Fern Helfand.

Dr. Mary Ann Murphy has peered into the lives of families who have lost everything in a wildfire. She knows what haunts them, and what they would do differently if they had to evacuate again. She also knows how they took those first steps to recovery.

Dr. Murphy is an associate professor in the Faculty of Health and Social Development’s School of Social Work, and also teaches in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences’ history and sociology department. Dr. Murphy has been examining the psychological and sociological impacts of wildfires on those who have lost their homes.

As the province grapples with the latest aggressive wildfire season and with the tragic loss of life and property for the people of Lytton, she searches for lessons from those who have survived wildfires in the past.

What kind of past experience from wildfires can we draw upon to learn about those coping with loss today?

Seventeen years ago, I led a UBC interdisciplinary study (Social Work, Photography, Nursing, Earth, Environmental and Geographic Science) with families who had lost their homes in the unprecedented Okanagan Mountain wildfire in 2003. That research led to a year-long exhibit at the Kelowna Museum and an article printed in the Hazmat journal in 2018.

This was one of the largest wildland-urban interface fires in Canadian history. This fire forever changed our landscape and our psyche, and deeply affected our communal sense of safety and security. We were interested in talking with families one year after the fire to find out how they were doing and to learn more about the depth and significance of the loss of cherished objects and their homes, as well as their experiences with evacuation and adjustment.

Why is it essential to understand these experiences?

While our museum exhibition has long been packed away, we vividly remember the families, stories and the trauma of those who — if they even had the opportunity — rushed to gather up belongings and protect their children and pets.

We still often think of these families, and have worked to impart their lessons to others, including a sense of what was really important. For us, the “new normal” refers to their fortitude in grappling with adjustment and recovery — lessons of particular significance as the frequency and severity of fires only increases. We hope everyone will take time to empathize with the trauma they experienced, as well as what the Lytton and other evacuees are currently going through — which is nothing short of a monumental disruption to their lives.

You talked about the sense of guilt. People desperately grabbed items as they were forced to evacuate their homes, but were saddened by what they had left behind.

There were important items that family members had forgotten as the ‘acute stress’ of the moment trumped logical thinking. Later, they berated themselves for not taking computers, hard drives, the oldest objects in their homes, photographs, Christmas decorations, favourite clothing out of the laundry bin, collections and souvenirs, art work and important papers.

We also recall the profound guilt felt by those who left behind simple but irreplaceable mementos that represented deeply embedded memories — children’s trophies and stuffed animals, family heirlooms and old, inexpensive keepsakes that most represented what they cherished about their home and history.

Those items were forgotten in haste, while items like tennis racquets and food were saved.

Any tips on what people should do to be prepared. And the items they simply shouldn’t leave behind?

The families we spoke with mourned irreplaceable photos and the Christmas decorations no one thinks about in the heat. Their advice was to prepare for fire season by making a list; taking a full video of every room in your house and pre-packing easy-to-grab bins with important objects and documents like passports and insurance papers, including the most treasured things in your home. Think about whether things like jewelry or art work are insured, and whether or not these are things you would want to take with you. Also, think about neighbours who may need assistance. Remember that you may have only a few minutes to leave.

Can you explain why the grief for wildfire victims is so profound?

The victims we spoke with talked about living with the incredible loss of what was more than a structure — as every comfort, every family routine and ritual, everything familiar was turned upside down. They struggled with the loss of something that many people work, sacrifice, tend to and care about — not a house, but a home — a place that reflects yourself, a welcoming safe harbour, a site of shared history, comfort, celebrations and traditions.

But, as we have seen over the past few days, hope and help will come from the most unexpected places. While Lytton homes and the townsite have been burned, we are reminded of the reassuring words of those who left messages for the families we talked with. “The most wonderful thing was hearing how your community came together. It can be both your darkest and finest hour.”

UBCO researchers say childhood memories can impact a social worker’s role when it comes to child protection services.

UBCO researchers say childhood memories can impact a social worker’s role when it comes to child protection services.

Childhood memories can be a trigger while working with a client

What happened in the past doesn’t necessarily stay in the past.

Especially, says a UBC Okanagan researcher, when it comes to child protection workers and any trauma they may have suffered as a child.

Dr. Sean St. Jean, a post-doctoral researcher in UBCO’s School of Social Work, recently published a study examining how the childhood experiences of a social worker might be triggered in their role of child protection practice.

“Child protection workers are acutely and chronically exposed to the trauma of children and families as they struggle with child sexual abuse, family violence and/or child neglect,” says Dr. St. Jean. “These professionals are called upon to empathically engage in these desperate situations in order to protect children.”

It’s up to the child protection worker to make complex, delicate and emotional risk decisions, he says, and they become a significant role in the lives of the families they interact with.

Research has shown there is a link between a child protection worker and their own trauma or their experiences and Dr. St. Jean says they are trained to recognize the triggers. However, his research shows, many child protection workers suffer in silence — doing their best to protect a child — while battling their own mental health issues.

Dr. St. Jean says the numbers are concerning. Some 70 per cent of social workers will have symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and 15 per cent of those will be diagnosed with PTSD. That number is higher for child protection workers.

“It’s a little bit scary,” he says. “Fifty per cent of people with PTSD will carry those symptoms with them for the rest of their lives.”

St. Jean, and his supervisor Dr. Brian Rasmussen, wanted to look at how child protection workers cope with their own childhood memories when it comes to child protection. And while Rasmussen says the adverse historical backgrounds of some child protection workers can influence their views of the work, it’s not all doom and gloom.

“With regard to child protection workers specifically, there are currently only two previous studies that consider the relationship between their childhood histories and their present-day professional function,” says Dr. Rasmussen. “And yet, what qualitative research we do have suggests that acute childhood experiences can have a significant and negative impact on the vocational lives of child protection workers.”

The role, says Dr. Rasmussen, comes with both a high exhaustion rate and high job satisfaction.

“People choose this career for all kinds of reasons and it’s common that social workers often have their own experiences as early helpers as a child or an experience of trauma,” he says. “Often, it’s empowering for social workers. They hope to redeem any negative things that happened to them as a child, perhaps even want to find meaning.”

Dr. St. Jean recalls the story of a child protection worker going into a home where an abusive client had consumed a fair amount of alcohol. The social worker was able to connect with the client and dissolve the situation. When asked how she made it look so easy, she replied that she had grown up in a home with a father dependent on alcohol. As a child, she learned ways to deal with impaired people and those skills served her throughout her career.

“Human trauma is like a super power and this woman uses her skills borne from her childhood,” says Dr. St. Jean. “But it can also be your kryptonite. We need to be able to recognize the experiences child protection workers bring to the table, and be ready to help them at any time.”

The participants in the study drew a strong link between their childhood memories and their social work practice. Primarily, there was a strong aspect of identification or empathy for the clients who triggered those memories. Although these child protection workers routinely witness all manner of difficult child protection scenarios, it was predominantly specific scenarios with which they had personal previous experience that appeared to move them emotionally.

For others, says Dr. St. Jean, there was simply the validation of knowing that they were making a difference for their families in ways that they themselves deeply comprehend.

The point of this research, he notes, is that people need to be mindful of the tough job and fine balancing act child protection workers face in their daily work lives. The mental health of all child protection workers should be considered as important as their physical well-being.

The respondents in his study were able to make sense of their memories in several ways — one being the reason for the satisfaction they found in their careers.

“Child protection workers deserve to be protected from emotional harm as they perform this difficult work,” he says. “It’s easy to look at a physical injury at work, but when it comes psychological injuries, we don’t have the same insight.”

The research was published this spring in the British Journal of Social Work.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

As UBCO’s first Woodhaven Artist in Residence for the season, Chantal Bilodeau will host a free community workshop on July 10.

As UBCO’s first Woodhaven Artist in Residence for the season, Chantal Bilodeau will host a free community workshop on July 10.

Writer in Residence to spend six weeks at the Woodhaven Eco Culture Centre 

What: Workshop: “Envisioning a Better World Together”
Who: Chantal Bilodeau
When: Saturday, July 10, 9 a.m to 1 p.m.
Where: Woodhaven Eco Culture Centre, 939 Raymer Ave., Kelowna

UBC Okanagan’s Woodhaven Eco Culture Centre is opening its doors for its first Woodhaven Artist in Residence of the season.

Chantal Bilodeau will spend six weeks at the centre, where she will work on her art practice, engage with the community and offer an in-person workshop.

The Woodhaven Artist in Residence Program is run by UBCO’s Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies. Woodhaven provides a paid residency opportunity for a diverse variety of visiting artists each year, including writers, visual artists, digital media artists and performance artists. For the 2021 season, applications were sought from writers of all genres.

Bilodeau is a Montreal-born, New York-based playwright and translator whose work focuses on the intersection of science, policy, art and climate change. In her capacity as artistic director of The Arctic Cycle, she has been instrumental in getting the theatre and academic communities — as well as audiences in the US and abroad — to engage in climate action through programming that includes live events, talks, publications, workshops, national and international convenings, and a worldwide distributed theatre festival.

“I love that the Woodhaven Eco Culture Centre specifically supports writers who engage with climate change. I can’t think of a better environment to work on a play that is about this very issue, and many of its complex ramifications,” says Bilodeau. “I will certainly benefit from some time away from home, which is a little too full of distractions, making the kind of concentration needed for writing more elusive.”

Bilodeau’s residency will include a free community workshop, “Envisioning a Better World Together,” on Saturday, July 10, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Woodhaven Eco Culture Centre.

“These days, it feels like we are going from crisis to crisis and it can be difficult to think past a sense of constant urgency. This workshop will take advantage of the beautiful Woodhaven setting to take a step back, go beyond our frustrations with the world as it is, and start to formulate visions of the world we want,” explains Bilodeau.

For the workshop, participants will use their imagination to articulate, in as specific terms as possible, what they hope to bring into existence for themselves and others. As a culmination of this envisioning exercise, the group will create a land art mandala.

During the residency, Bilodeau will work with Denise Kenney, Creative Studies department head and associate professor of performance. Kenney and Bilodeau have interacted in the past during the Artists and Climate Change Incubator in Alaska in 2019.

“I am thrilled that we have Chantal coming to visit our community,” says Kenney. “Giving artists the time, space and support to create new work in an artist residency is essential. We are fortunate to have her here with a chance for local artists, performers and writers to benefit from her knowledge in the field.”

This residency will also allow her to explore the possibility of bringing the Artists and Climate Change Incubator to UBC Okanagan in the future.

Space in the workshop is limited to 25. For more information about the residency or to register for the workshop, visit: fccs.ok.ubc.ca/artist-in-residence

As UBCO’s first Woodhaven Artist in Residence for the season, Chantal Bilodeau will host a free community workshop on July 10.

As UBCO’s first Woodhaven Artist in Residence for the season, Chantal Bilodeau will host a free community workshop on July 10.

Writer in Residence to spend six weeks at the Woodhaven Eco Culture Centre 

What: Workshop: “Envisioning a Better World Together”
Who: Chantal Bilodeau
When: Saturday, July 10, 9 a.m to 1 p.m.
Where: Woodhaven Eco Culture Centre, 939 Raymer Ave., Kelowna

UBC Okanagan’s Woodhaven Eco Culture Centre is opening its doors for its first Woodhaven Artist in Residence of the season.

Chantal Bilodeau will spend six weeks at the centre, where she will work on her art practice, engage with the community and offer an in-person workshop.

The Woodhaven Artist in Residence Program is run by UBCO’s Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies. Woodhaven provides a paid residency opportunity for a diverse variety of visiting artists each year, including writers, visual artists, digital media artists and performance artists. For the 2021 season, applications were sought from writers of all genres.

Bilodeau is a Montreal-born, New York-based playwright and translator whose work focuses on the intersection of science, policy, art and climate change. In her capacity as artistic director of The Arctic Cycle, she has been instrumental in getting the theatre and academic communities — as well as audiences in the US and abroad — to engage in climate action through programming that includes live events, talks, publications, workshops, national and international convenings, and a worldwide distributed theatre festival.

“I love that the Woodhaven Eco Culture Centre specifically supports writers who engage with climate change. I can’t think of a better environment to work on a play that is about this very issue, and many of its complex ramifications,” says Bilodeau. “I will certainly benefit from some time away from home, which is a little too full of distractions, making the kind of concentration needed for writing more elusive.”

Bilodeau’s residency will include a free community workshop, “Envisioning a Better World Together,” on Saturday, July 10, from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Woodhaven Eco Culture Centre.

“These days, it feels like we are going from crisis to crisis and it can be difficult to think past a sense of constant urgency. This workshop will take advantage of the beautiful Woodhaven setting to take a step back, go beyond our frustrations with the world as it is, and start to formulate visions of the world we want,” explains Bilodeau.

For the workshop, participants will use their imagination to articulate, in as specific terms as possible, what they hope to bring into existence for themselves and others. As a culmination of this envisioning exercise, the group will create a land art mandala.

During the residency, Bilodeau will work with Denise Kenney, Creative Studies department head and associate professor of performance. Kenney and Bilodeau have interacted in the past during the Artists and Climate Change Incubator in Alaska in 2019.

“I am thrilled that we have Chantal coming to visit our community,” says Kenney. “Giving artists the time, space and support to create new work in an artist residency is essential. We are fortunate to have her here with a chance for local artists, performers and writers to benefit from her knowledge in the field.”

This residency will also allow her to explore the possibility of bringing the Artists and Climate Change Incubator to UBC Okanagan in the future.

Space in the workshop is limited to 25. For more information about the residency or to register for the workshop, visit: fccs.ok.ubc.ca/artist-in-residence

UBCO School of Nursing Professor Dr. Nelly Oelke explains why those living in the smaller towns need support more than ever before.

UBCO School of Nursing Professor Dr. Nelly Oelke explains why those living in the smaller towns need support more than ever before.

Multiple stressors impact those living in small, rural communities

A team of researchers with British Columbia’s three interior universities are reaching out to residents in small communities to see how they are coping. The project is being conducted with faculty at UBC Okanagan, Thompson Rivers University and the University of Northern British Columbia. UBCO School of Nursing Professor Dr. Nelly Oelke explains why those in the smaller towns need support more than ever before.

Can you explain why researchers are concerned about people’s mental health?

Globally, we are in the midst of three overlapping crises: the COVID-19 pandemic, racism and climate change. The toxic drug crisis in BC has worsened as well. Research has shown that climate change events, such as wildfires and flooding, negatively influence both the physical and mental health of those impacted. And it’s well known that public health measures, such as self-isolation, combined with social and physical distancing, have resulted in social isolation, fear, financial challenges, and public uncertainty. As a result, mental health and substance-use issues — including anxiety, depression, increased substance use and overdose — have surged.

People imagine life in a small, rural BC town as less stressful than city life. But you’re saying the opposite might be true.

Rural communities are unequally affected by both the pandemic and climate change, and when these factors occur together the impact on individual and community mental health and well-being is markedly increased. Given these multiple crises that are affecting rural communities, it is important to enhance individual and community resilience.

You’re looking at three specific communities in your research. Why these three?

Our research focuses on three rural communities: Ashcroft, Burns Lake and Keremeos, although our survey is open to all rural residents in the province. Each of these communities has been impacted significantly over the last three years by one or more climate change events — including wildfires and severe flooding. While dealing with this, they have also had to deal with the challenges caused by the pandemic.

What sort of information are you looking for?

To better understand these impacts on community members, we are conducting a survey for those aged 15 years and over who live, work, or go to school in one of the three communities.

We will also be conducting community consultations and interviews in each community to better understand the residents’ needs and experiences during times like these.

People completing the survey can also share photos, stories, drawings, poems or other forms of expression to elaborate on their experiences with climate change events and COVID-19.

Once all responses have been collected and analyzed, we will conduct discussion sessions in each community to co-create solutions for resiliency in each of the communities.

What’s the next step?

This research will produce important findings about the impacts of the pandemic and climate change events on mental health in rural communities. Further, the solutions we develop with the survey respondents will promote resiliency and assist with the challenges they are facing and will continue to face moving forward. We hope that the information gathered in this study, as well as the benefits it may bring, will reach all rural communities in BC and beyond.

Can residents in other communities participate? How can they get involved?

While we have identified three different communities, our survey is open to all rural residents in BC over the age of 15 years. If people are interested in participating or want to gather more information about the study, they can contact Nelly Oelke at nelly.oelke@ubc.ca, Bonnie Fournier at bofournier@tru.ca, or Davina Banner-Lukaris at Davina.Banner-Lukaris@unbc.ca.

To complete the survey visit: ubc.ca1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_etFlMuUCZXjSklL

To submit photos, stories or other forms of expressions and answer survey questions visit: ubc.ca1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_7O1HwR1vH8so0Id

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

UBCO researchers study the relationship between perfectionism and eating disorders in young women.

UBCO researchers study the relationship between perfectionism and eating disorders in young women.

UBCO researchers look at predictors of body dissatisfaction

New research from UBC Okanagan finds young women who are perfectionistic are more likely to experience body dissatisfaction — a general unhappiness with, and negative attitude towards, their bodies.

In a recent study published in Current Psychology, the research team led by Dr. Maya Libben, associate professor of psychology, explored the complex relationship between perfectionism, body dissatisfaction and self-efficacy — the belief that one can accomplish what they put their mind to.

“As a part-time clinician with a private practice in the community, I’ve noticed an increase in the prevalence of eating disorders,” says Dr. Libben, who teaches in the Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. “I’ve also seen an increase in clients who may not have eating disorders, but present with high levels of body dissatisfaction. One thing I’ve noticed about both of these groups is that many have strong perfectionistic tendencies.”

Dr. Libben and her team of student researchers looked at two types of perfectionism. Self-oriented — where one sets high standards for themselves — and socially prescribed — where a person feels others are setting unrealistic expectations for them.

Using a sample of 170 female undergraduate students at UBC Okanagan as study participants, the team examined how perfectionistic beliefs worked alongside self-efficacy and body dissatisfaction.

“Recent research shows the percentage of undergraduate females who express body dissatisfaction is hovering around 50 per cent. Furthermore, it’s a risk factor for developing an eating disorder, so understanding the relationships between these factors is incredibly important,” she says.

The study participants were asked to complete a set of self-report surveys to evaluate their levels of self-oriented perfectionism, socially prescribed perfectionism, body dissatisfaction and self-efficacy.

There were three major findings.

First, they found females experiencing socially prescribed perfectionism had higher body dissatisfaction, which also caused lower self-efficacy.

“This represents the group who may not be doing well psychologically because they feel that others, be it parents, professors or their peers, are setting unrealistic expectations for them. This may negatively impact body image and self-efficacy because they feel like they can’t get things done to the standard set by others and might feel judged. This group may be at higher risk for developing an eating disorder,” explains Dr. Libben.

Second, individuals with high body dissatisfaction had greater self-oriented perfectionism and greater self-efficacy.

“Our thoughts here are that people who set high expectations for themselves and believe they can get things done are more likely to think they’re able to maintain the idealized body type and may engage in unhealthy weight control strategies to do so. The unfortunate thing is that these beliefs and behaviours can actually leave you feeling more dissatisfied with your body.”

Finally, they found females who were low in self-oriented perfectionism had lower body dissatisfaction and higher self-efficacy.

“This may be the group that is feeling the best about themselves, they’re not too perfectionistic about their accomplishments,” she says. “They’re generally okay with their body shape and have maintained a pretty good ability to get things done and do so in a healthy manner.”

Dr. Libben says these findings give insight into an underexplored area of inquiry and stresses the need for more research as body dissatisfaction continues to increase in younger populations.

“We know quite a bit about the relationship between perfectionism and eating disorders. But body dissatisfaction is a newer interest area and these results advance our understanding of the complex interactions,” she says.

Dr. Libben says the prevalence of body dissatisfaction is alarming and notes her lab is working to provide interventions in schools for girls as young as 10 years old.

“For teachers and parents, perfectionism is a good thing to look out for. We do tend to praise perfectionistic traits since they are associated with high achievement and good grades. That’s fantastic, and of course not everyone who has perfectionistic tendencies will be dissatisfied with their body. However, being aware that there can be a relationship between perfectionism and body dissatisfaction can help catch any red flags or even just start conversations.”

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

UBCO research has shown that when perpetrators are familiar, someone they trust, children who have experienced sexual abuse will often delay telling another adult.

UBCO research has shown that when perpetrators are familiar, someone they trust, children who have experienced sexual abuse will often delay telling another adult.

Non-offending caregivers have a vital role to play

It’s all about trust and a safe place.

New research from UBC Okanagan has determined if a child knows they have safe support from a trusted adult, it significantly increases the chances of that child disclosing they have been sexually assaulted. This likelihood is especially true when the offender is a family member or trusted caregiver.

Cassidy Wallis, a psychology doctoral student in UBC Okanagan’s Irving K. Barber Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, recently published research that shows what conditions would support a child if they have been sexually abused by someone close to them.

For her research, Wallis was allowed access to more than 200 RCMP archival sexual abuse files involving victims aged 0 to 18 years. In 92 per cent of these cases, the offender had a previous relationship with the child, with only eight per cent of cases being conducted by a stranger. Of these cases, 29 per cent resulted in a conviction and 71 per cent did not. These low rates, she says, can be explained by what is on average a delay of well over three years in reporting abuse.

“Research has shown that when perpetrators are familiar, someone they trust, children who have experienced sexual abuse will often delay telling another adult,” says Wallis. “For several reasons intrafamilial abuse has been found to result in longer delays of disclosure compared to stranger offences.”

Wallis says those reasons are compounded, often by fears of the consequences for their disclosure — such as leaving the family with no financial support or having siblings removed from the home.

But without disclosure, the abuse may continue for years.

That’s why opening a window for discussion is extremely important but also very difficult. More importantly, once that window is open, it’s vital that child is believed. If not, that opportunity for open discussion may be closed permanently.

“When a child discloses, often there is active disbelief. It is quite difficult for parents to reconcile that not only is the accused perpetrator a loved one but is also an abuser. There are also strong feelings of guilt. But it’s up to that non-offending caregiver to accept what’s been said and take responsibility for the care and treatment of the child.”

When a formal disclosure is made to the police there is the opportunity for positive outcomes including an end to the abuse, access to resources and supports, and protection against abuse for future victims, says Wallis.

“One of the most encouraging and important findings of the current study is when a non-offending caregiver provides full support. This expedited the speed with which formal disclosures were made,” says Wallis. “Increasing the speed with which a formal disclosure is made is essential so evidence is not lost and reports can be easily corroborated. Once a formal disclosure is made, resources can be obtained for the child and the abuser can be held accountable.”

Wallis stresses that in the case of child sexual abuse, there is support for all families from the RCMP and in the Okanagan from the newly-established Child Advocacy Centre of Kelowna.

“Formal disclosure is so important in so many ways. It’s not easy. Even in our study parents expressed that they were too embarrassed or just didn’t know how to approach such sensitive topics with their child,” adds Wallis. “But if parents can take one thing from my research it is my hope that they have open communication with their children around healthy and appropriate sexual behaviour. If you start those conversations early, children may feel more comfortable coming forward if something does happen to them.”

Dr. Michael Woodworth, Wallis’ supervisor and co-author of the paper, points out that the Child Advocacy Centre is a good example of the link between the university and its community partners. He also notes the organization is intended as a resource for all residents of the area and the centre provides support for all types of child abuse.

For those in need, or to find more information on the Child Advocacy Centre of Kelowna, visit: cackelowna.com

The research paper was published recently in Child Abuse and Neglect.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

UBCO Clinical Associate Professor Dr. Evelyn Cornelissen has a virtual conversation with students Rowan Laird and Jimmy Lopez.

UBCO Clinical Associate Professor Dr. Evelyn Cornelissen has a virtual conversation with students Rowan Laird and Jimmy Lopez.

Teaching children how to navigate health claims during COVID-19

Although bogus health claims have dogged humanity for centuries, a UBC Okanagan professor says COVID-19 has made the importance of navigating health claims more critical than ever. And there are plans to make BC’s elementary school students better health detectives, one class at a time.

Dr. Evelyn Cornelissen is a clinical associate professor with the Southern Medical Program (SMP) based at UBCO. As the global pandemic emerged last spring she became increasingly concerned with how health misinformation was impacting children.

“Internet connectivity and social media have fuelled the spread of health misinformation, while rotating lockdowns have increased uncertainty and reluctance to follow public health guidelines,” she says.

Cornelissen, a registered dietitian in Kelowna, enlisted the help of Rowan Laird, first-year SMP student and Jimmy Lopez, graduate research assistant with BC Children's Hospital’s Vaccine Evaluation Center, to create a virtual seminar to teach children how to evaluate and identify reputable sources of health information.

“Misinformation is so endemic these days,” says Laird, who took on the project as part of a UBC Faculty of Medicine’s flexible and enhanced learning course. “Our goal is to teach students how to navigate health information online, spot misinformation and think critically about health claims.”

The project team presented their one-hour seminar “So You Want to be a Health Detective?” to a Grade 5/6 split class at École Glenmore Elementary in Kelowna. Laird was keenly interested in learning how and why 10- to 12-year-olds access information on their own.

The interactive session presented tips about evaluating information sources and encouraging the students to think critically about the 5Ws (who, what when, where, and why) to help spot websites that lack current scientific data or might have ulterior motives.

Feedback from the class indicated students often turn to Google to research questions they are initially reluctant to ask a parent or teacher out of fear of embarrassment. The internet is seen as a trial run before discussing with someone they trust.

“At times, it can appear people who are spreading misinformation are given an equal platform to the actual health experts,” says École Glenmore Elementary teacher Elizabeth Archer. “It is important for students to grow up recognizing they have a responsibility to look more deeply into headlines and general claims — especially about their own bodies.”

Students were given a pop quiz before and after the seminar to assess attitudes towards misinformation, trustworthy sources and their confidence levels in assessing online information. They were also given a blind test to compare web pages from the BC Centre for Disease Control and a prominent anti-vaccination organization.

“Within five minutes of studying each webpage, they were able to quickly identify the trustworthy source,” adds Laird. “I was really impressed how quickly they applied their critical thinking skills to assess the credibility of the information.”

The successful pilot has pushed the team to explore opportunities to expand the seminar to more schools and grades across the province in the fall.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

UBCO Associate Professor Megan Smith along with student Yugi Goa explore a virtual reality environment.

UBCO Associate Professor Megan Smith along with student Yugi Goa explore a virtual reality environment.

$1.65 million federal grant creates futuristic learning and applied research opportunities

Funding from the Government of Canada will help establish one of the world’s first truly interdisciplinary immersive technologies graduate programs at UBC’s Okanagan campus.

The $1.65-million grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada’s Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) program will support UBCO’s newly-established CREATE Immersive Technologies (CITech) program.

Dr. Abbas S. Milani, a professor in the School of Engineering and CITech lead, says the program will help students develop skills in immersive technologies that are in demand across Canada and globally. Immersive technologies, such as augmented and virtual reality systems, enable users to interact naturally with a blended environment of physical and virtual content.

“There is currently a huge demand for adopting virtual, augmented and mixed reality systems across the globe,” says Milani. “This new program will equip students with the skills to flourish in the fast-paced, continually evolving field of immersive technologies.”

An additional $2.5 million from other partners will help UBC develop multiple and innovative cross-departmental courses.

CITech will provide multi-faculty co-supervision, multidisciplinary research projects, and industry mentorships from across Canada, says Milani, who is the founding director of the UBC Materials and Manufacturing Research Institute (MMRI).

This new endeavour will link researchers, students and partners from traditionally distinct sectors such as engineering, creative and critical studies, medicine, nursing, education and computer science.

The program will establish a large and diverse cohort of students each year, who will develop immersive technology skills through multidisciplinary course work along with basic and applied research. They will work and study in an integrated setting that will include computational, engineering, smart manufacturing, health and artistic design perspectives.

“Collaborations between our faculties, our campus and industry, along with our researchers and the community are the perfect incubator for training the high-tech workers of tomorrow,” he adds.

Milani and his co-applicants believe that UBC Okanagan provides an ideal environment for training the next generation of leaders in immersive technology.

“To make the biggest impact with this program, contributions from arts and health are imperative,” he adds. “Integrating the arts recognizes a more holistic science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) strategy, and the engagement of health researchers acknowledges the substantial projected impact of immersive technologies on the Canadian health-care sector.”

The program will take advantage of UBC Okanagan’s state-of-the-art Visualization and Emerging Media Studio, set to open later this summer, along with other high-tech labs across the campus.

Mahdi Takaffoli, MMRI research engineer and CITech coordinator, points to the program’s collaboration with 18 initial industry partners, in addition to Interior Health and the City of Kelowna, as a major indicator that the skills being taught in this program are highly sought after.

“There is a significant skills gap in terms of designing and building immersive solutions that solve tangible problems,” says Takaffoli. “And this program seeks to address this gap through professional development opportunities, cutting-edge research projects and real-world experiential learning.”

From formal co-mentorship, professional skills and job-readiness training, industrial internships, symposiums and inter-disciplinary research, students in the program will strive to uncover innovative methods of implementing immersive technologies into a wide range of applications including design, engineering, health care, education and the arts.

“This program will lay a strong foundation for our students and community partners to address future challenges,” says Milani. “The upcoming projects are far-reaching and have endless potential for continued research.

One of the proposed projects will use virtual reality to determine a pedestrian’s reaction to an approaching autonomous vehicle, while another will help post-stroke patients gain strength to reduce the risk of falling.

Other projects will investigate how virtual technology can support the learning of Indigenous languages, or help advanced manufacturing sectors assess the quality and safety of their procedures and products, and one future project will look at the use of immersive visualization to create 3D, interactive e-commerce venues.

The growth potential is limited only by the team’s imagination, says Milani, who notes there are plans to expand the CITech program over the next few years and develop a national centre of excellence with other Canadian universities.

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

The COVID-19 Disability Survey captured perspectives from Canadians with different types of disabilities and their family members.

The COVID-19 Disability Survey captured perspectives from Canadians with different types of disabilities and their family members.

Nearly 30 per cent of those polled are hesitant to get vaccinated

A new study led by UBC researchers and the Ontario-based Abilities Centre is sounding the alarm over the damaging effects of COVID-19 for Canadians with disabilities.

Dr. Kathleen Martin Ginis, director of the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management, points to public health restrictions and lack of community resources as key contributors to heightened challenges facing those living with disabilities.

“Limited social support, reduced access to recreational space and financial uncertainties have exacerbated the current situation,” says Martin Ginis, a professor at UBC Okanagan. “As the pandemic continues to draw on, we need to prevent more individuals from slipping further through the cracks.”

The COVID-19 Disability Survey targeted Canadians who identify as having a disability — such as a physical, cognitive or sensory disability — or having a child or family member living with a disability in their household. The survey collected responses from across Canada and with representation from most provinces and territories.

Of those surveyed, 82 per cent reported that the pandemic is negatively impacting their mental health. Individuals reported unmet needs for emotional counselling, recreation and leisure programs, income support, specialized health care, accessible housing and transportation.

A majority of people reported decreased physical activity, less healthy lifestyles and significant social isolation. For children with disabilities, more than half of parents reported their child experiencing decreased physical activities as a result of public health restrictions.

“Another key finding was that only 72 per cent of Canadians with disabilities planned to get a COVID-19 vaccine,” says Stuart McReynolds, president and chief executive officer with the Abilities Centre. “We need to help boost vaccine confidence for all individuals, so we can collectively put this public health crisis behind us.”

The COVID-19 Disability Survey data has already contributed to positive policy changes such as the Ontario Government’s amendment for people with disabilities to have access to physical therapy programs and by providing guidance around how to ensure that vaccination sites are fully accessible.

“This survey provides a snapshot of the negative impact of the pandemic and COVID-19 restrictions on the well-being of Canadians with disabilities,” adds Martin Ginis. “We strongly urge governments and community agencies to work quickly to address service gaps and mitigate further negative mental and physical health impacts.”

The full report can be viewed at: abilitiescentre.org/Abilities/media/Documents/Covid-survey-report

About UBC's Okanagan campus

UBC’s Okanagan campus is an innovative hub for research and learning founded in 2005 in partnership with local Indigenous peoples, the Syilx Okanagan Nation, in whose territory the campus resides. As part of UBC—ranked among the world’s top 20 public universities—the Okanagan campus combines a globally recognized UBC education with a tight-knit and entrepreneurial community that welcomes students and faculty from around the world in British Columbia’s stunning Okanagan Valley.

To find out more, visit: ok.ubc.ca

About the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management

Based at UBC Okanagan, the Centre for Chronic Disease Prevention and Management (CCDPM) serves as a leader for research, knowledge translation and exchange in the urgent research field of chronic disease prevention. The CCDPM is the UBC Faculty of Medicine’s first research centre located outside of the Lower Mainland. To learn more, visit: ccdpm.med.ubc.ca

About the Abilities Centre

Abilities Centre strives to make communities more accessible and inclusive to increase quality of life for every individual and enable them to participate fully in community and economic life. As a community hub, living lab and inclusion incubator, Abilities Centre engages individuals and communities in inclusive and accessible programs, leads research and advocacy on inclusion issues, and develops innovative frameworks for programs that are replicable, scalable and customizable to the needs of local communities in Durham Region and across Ontario and Canada. Learn more at: abilitiescentre.org