New Kids Come First Initiative Restoring Hope and Making an Impact

Denise and her wife Dana are each the mothers of two children and two stepchildren. Denise and Dana are the grandmothers of two little boys, Jake, age nine, and Jaxsen, age five. 

Starting in 2019, Jake and Jaxsen came to live with Denise and Dana for about a year and a half. After returning to their mother's home for nine months, the boys permanently returned to live with their grandmothers in October 2021.

When the boys returned to Denise and Dana, Jaxsen, a child living with Autism who does not communicate verbally, demonstrated his feelings by clinging to Denise's side. Jake expressed sadness and anxiety and struggled to eat. He also had difficulties managing school and regulating his emotions. Despite the success of transferring Jake for school-based treatment, Denise and Dana continued to face barriers when attempting to access health care for Jake through his primary provider. “We were facing roadblocks every time we tried to get help for him. He was seen as too complex; there was never enough time to address his needs, paperwork was stalling, and any answers were not available. We felt hopeless as we tried to navigate an overburdened, burnt out, and broken health care system."

​Exhausted but determined, Denise sought further support for Jake's worrisome anxiety and relationship with food by contacting 

The Kids Come First Health Team was able to create thanks in part to a $1.5 million donation to Kids Come First from funding partner RBC. Designed to provide a streamlined and better way to connect local children, youth and families to the proper mental health, addiction and substance use health services at the right time, matches children, youth and families with partner agencies or providers best suited to their needs. The program also helps children, youth, and families struggling with complex mental health, addiction and substance use health needs to navigate the health system.

A connection with one of's intake workers led to several exchanges, assistance with the referral process, and appointments to look forward to. Says Denise, “The intake worker said that she was only doing her job, but to us, it felt like she was moving mountains. For the first time, we did not feel alone and struggling. We had an appointment and came away with a plan."

Thanks to an appointment with a pediatrician and participation in a pilot program with a neuropsychologist, Denise, Dana and Jake's new care providers are starting to understand how Jake's brain works and what will help him to thrive. According to Denise, this makes all the difference for Jake and his family. “Jake is trying his best, and we have been so frustrated for him. We now have healthcare providers who will work with us, and roadblocks have been transformed into treatment plans. The experience with has been awesome, and the weight is now lifted from our shoulders."  

Two-Year anniversary of Kids Come First Health Team Mental Health
Initiative is available to help infants, children and youth from birth to 21 years of age. The service covers parts of eastern Ontario, including Ottawa, Pembroke, Cornwall, Hawkesbury, and surrounding areas, including the counties of Lanark, Leeds and Grenville; Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry; Prescott-Russell and Renfrew.

Since the program launched in June 2021, has helped over 10,000 families. 

With Jake's health care in motion, Denise and Dana hope he can concentrate on the things he loves, like books, space, world events, and Minecraft. Denise and Dana look forward to taking the boys to swim, play and explore at their trailer in Renfrew. 

This summer is an exciting one with much to look forward to, as the family has bought their first home and is preparing to move, but also because Jake's new medications have significantly helped his anxiety and severe ADHD. Jake's teacher has recently shared that Jake is more agreeable to whatever he requests and is so much happier and enjoying time with his friends. Jake has even joined a local soccer team and has been having fun learning new skills and meeting new kids. Asked what they most want for Jake, Denise is confident. “We want him to feel proud of himself. To come home proud of what he has accomplished at the end of a school day. He wants to make a difference in this world - and we know he can."   

CHEO is a partner of the Kids Come First Health Team, a network of 60 partner organizations working to create a high-quality, standardized and coordinated system for pediatric health care centred around children, youth, and their families.