Frontline workers learn about the building blocks of a child’s brain

Nearly 200 frontline workers attended a workshop at MacEwan University Nov. 2 that aimed to expand their understanding of how brains work, develop and respond to trauma – particularly the brains of children and youth.

This free workshop discussed the impact of early childhood experiences on the developing brain and how it affects their early language, literacy and emotional stability later in life.

The session was presented by Dr. Nicole Sherren, scientific director of the Palix Foundation and a Program Officer with the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative. She has a PhD in Neuroscience and her research focus includes experience-based brain development, neurodevelopmental disorders and brain plasticity.

Sherren discussed the complex, long-term affects of trauma and isolation in early years that prevent children from developing the skills to control their emotions, express themselves, follow instructions and interact with schools and other systems.

“They don’t have the same opportunities as other children, who have good emotional control do. All these things are intertwined and affect each other,” said Sherren. “These are the best predictors of academic success. Not only that, they’re also the best predictors of employment success as well as their ability to effectively raise the next generation.”

Sherren stressed that building on these abilities, called executive function, is a skill that can be practiced. She encouraged frontline workers to take a holistic approach to working with youth and remember that often children are developing at difference rates, and the importance of supporting healthy development of executive function throughout all of a child’s developing years.

The session was webcast for those who were unable to attend, and the recording of the workshop can be viewed on REACH Edmonton’s YouTube page here.

The workshop, which was a partnership between REACH Edmonton, MacEwan University and the Palix Foundation will be held again in spring 2017.