Researchers engage community in event on health promotion

Nazilla Khanlou

A community event organized and facilitated by the Office of Women’s Health Research Chair in Mental Health in the Faculty of Health at York University engaged in knowledge transfer (KT) to a diverse audience on research findings from a recently completed project on immigrant mothers (funded by Women’s Xchange at Women’s College Research Institute: 15K Challenge Program).

Nazilla Khanlou
Nazilla Khanlou

The event “Health Promotion for Immigrant Mothers of Children with Developmental Disabilities: What is relevant?” took place on Sept. 23 at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital.

The project’s principal investigator is Nazilla Khanlou, Women’s Health Research Chair in Mental Health in the Faculty of Health at York University and an associate professor in the School of Nursing. The research was undertaken along with co-investigators Gail Jones (Kerry’s Place Autism Services), Louise Kinross (Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital) and Karen Yoshida (University of Toronto).

Affiliates of the Office of Women’s Health Research Chair, including research personnel and students, and consisting of  Luz Maria Vazquez, Fatma Aidarus, Nida Mustafa, Sadora Asefaw, Babitha Shan, Tobi Olaiya and Georges Danhuondo helped with the event.

The event encouraged community members from diverse sectors to assemble and share experiences on health promotion for mothers of children with developmental disabilities. Innovative approaches to KT were utilized including a video displaying the findings of the study through narrative and pictures produced by a member of the project’s Mothers Advisory Committee (

Maricel Patricio spoke about navigating systems and advocacy as an immigrant mother; and Jacqueline Getfield, a PhD student at OISE, addressed the topic of “Engagement or Exclusion: Journeying with Racialized Immigrant Mothers and their Disabled Children”. Kim Rodrigues, director of Community Supports at Kerry’s Place Autism Services, spoke about outreach services to mothers. Poster presenters included fellow Office of Women’s Health Research Chair affiliates Attia Khan and Chan Su.

Back row, left to right: Brenda Spielmann, Fatema Aidarus, Dr. Nazilla Khanlou, Dr. Attia Khan, Babitha Shan, Dr. Georges Danhoundo, Nida Mustafa; front row, left to right: Dr. Chang Su, Dr. Deborah Davidson, Dr. Dastjerdi
Back row: From left, Brenda Spielmann, Fatema Aidarus, Nazilla Khanlou, Attia Khan, Babitha Shan, Georges Danhoundo and Nida Mustafa. Front row: From left, Chang Su, Deborah Davidson, and  Mahdieh Dastjerdi

Deborah Davidson (associate professor of sociology) helped with the launch of a research report titled “Voices of Immigrant Mothers of Children with Disabilities: Availability and Use of Social Support”, another community-based project led by Khanlou and her team, including Davidson and Mahdieh Dastjerdi (School of Nursing).

The project was a qualitative study that examined social support for immigrant mothers of children with disabilities through institutions, programs and services. Recommendations from the study focused on improving access to services, improving service through staff training, adequate provincial funding, improving service coordination, improving public awareness, empowering immigrant mothers, and ensuring availability of respite care for mothers. Findings from that study led researchers to a more recent study (discussed at the community event) that examined what health promotion strategies are feasible, meaningful, and accessible for mothers in the context of raising, parenting, caregiving and advocating for their children with developmental disabilities.

The event was very well received and was attended by York University undergraduate nursing students, graduate students from across disciplines and faculty, mothers, community mobilizers and volunteers, and service providers from across sectors.

Attendees were invited to participate in all aspects of the discussion. The event explicated immigrant mothers’ challenges as well as their resilience in contesting  mainstream health promotion  ideologies,  advocating for their own health rights and that of their children when seeking programs and services that suit their child’s developmental needs while at the same time recognizing the health promotion needs of mothers themselves

It also brought together interested members of the community and service agency representatives to share their experiences and create new pathways for open communications in finding what is missing in the current structures, or what actions need to take place to fill those gaps.

The event concluded with a poem on empowerment, strength and persistence by award-winning poet and author, Nadine Williams.

“Our office prioritizes community-based KT. Events like this underscore why it’s important to engage all stakeholders including mothers, service providers, community and organizational service providers, educators and students,” said Khanlou. “Change comes from dialogue, voicing of difficult issues, recognizing difference and barriers …  and then putting ideas together in an inclusive and constructive way. We are humbled by the interest in our research on mothers from different stakeholders.”

Among the ways in which community-based KT is carried out by the office is through four-page lay language information sheets on studies posted on the website