The Alberta Family Wellness Initiative (AFWI) officially began in 2009, but its origins date back further. It was 2004 when the Palix Foundation (then called the Norlien Foundation) set its sights on an ambitious goal: to improve outcomes in health and wellbeing for children and families across Alberta.
To achieve this goal, the foundation understood that it must bridge the considerable gap between the latest scientific knowledge about brain development, mental health, and addiction, and what is actually done in policy and practice.
The AFWI was created to perform this work and make these connections. As the initiative has become established, it has broadened its mandate and agenda.
Setting the Groundwork
In the years leading up to the formation of the AFWI, the Palix Foundation begins to build a knowledge base and form a community of leading scientists.
The Foundation makes connections and funds research relevant to these issues at the University of Alberta, University of Lethbridge, the University of Calgary, and other academic institutions.
2005 – 2008
The Harvard Center on the Developing Child and the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child release a major body of research about the connection between early life experiences and later health outcomes. The Palix Foundation commits funding to both organizations and makes their body of knowledge available in Alberta.
The Foundation also enters partnerships with the FrameWorks Institute, a non-profit research organization that makes complex scientific information understandable for broad audiences.
With the Harvard Center, FrameWorks develops the “Core Story of Brain Development” a narrative (incorporated into the Brain Story by the AFWI) that serves as a tool for education and communication. The Core Story establishes a common language for discussing brain development and its link to mental health and addiction outcomes. This language can be used by researchers, policy makers, and service providers across sectors, as well as by the public. The Palix Foundation commissions FrameWorks to research public attitudes in Alberta and validate the salience of the brain story for Alberta audiences.
The Foundation commits funding to the Calgary Urban Project Society (CUPS) One World Child Centre, an early intervention education centre where health and development services are integrated.
The Foundation hosts the Building Blocks for a Healthy Future Conference, which gathers together high-level government, university and institutional professionals with experts in brain and child development. The following year a second conference brings the latest scientific knowledge to 200 mid-level people in Alberta's human, health, education, justice and service systems.
The AFWI is Created
Drawing on feedback and evaluations gained during the exploratory period, as well as its relationships, knowledge, and experience, the Foundation creates the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative to turn “what we know” about addiction and mental health into “what we do” in practice and service delivery.
FrameWorks completes its development of Alberta’s core story of brain development, (known colloquially as “The Brain Story,” which becomes the basis for all the AFWI’s communications.
2009 – 2012
The AFWI partners with the Government of Alberta to launch two, three-year interdisciplinary knowledge mobilization strategies centred on two annual symposia: one in Early Brain and Biological Development (hosted in the spring), and the other in Recovery from Addiction (hosted in the fall). Participants from academia, research, the non-profit sector, practice, policy, government, health care, justice, education, early childhood, and human services come together to hear presentations, absorb knowledge, and discuss ways to apply this knowledge. Cross-sector Learning Teams originally formed at the Symposia continue to work together year-round, finding better ways to communicate and apply brain development knowledge in their spheres of influence.
Through lectures, presentations, and webcasts, the AFWI communicates the brain story to people working in relevant sectors at all levels.
The AFWI places informative Science in Seconds video clips on Health Unlimited Television (HUTV) screens in facilities throughout the province, reaching nearly 600,000 people a month
The AFWI is affiliated with the Frontiers of Innovation, a network created by the Harvard Center on the Developing Child to connect practitioners, policy makers, and researchers to community groups and jurisdictions. Working cooperatively, these professionals and organizations find opportunities to accelerate change in specific places based on the core story science.
The AFWI launches a website, which becomes a major, expanding resource for researchers, practitioners, and policy makers, as well as families and individuals.
Expanding on the earlier symposia, the Accelerating Innovation Symposia examine the intergenerational effects of stress and mental health, including addiction. For these symposia, the two streams of brain development, and mental health and addiction, are merged into one, to break down communication barriers and foster collaboration. Furthermore, these symposia focus on transforming knowledge into action, with participants divided into Innovation Teams that work together throughout the two years to solve problems, demonstrate leadership, and apply knowledge about brain science, child development, and addiction and mental health. Participants come to identify as change agents under a model of distributed leadership.
2013 – 2014
Using the symposia as a springboard, the AFWI hosts hundreds of smaller targeted presentations all over Alberta. These sessions are called Professional Development Days, and they are led by change agents, members of partner organizations, and individuals and organizations interested in learning about the Brain Story.
In December of 2016, the AFWI launches an online course for professionals and the public designed to familiarize them with the science of brain development, mental health, and addiction. It explains the science behind the strategies used to communicate these concepts and the methods by which these concepts can be applied to policy and practice.
The science of Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, becomes a unifying framework for community conversations on issues related to early childhood experiences and later physical and mental health outcomes, including addiction.
Change Agents begin to multiply as more practitioners—those involved in the Symposia Series along with professionals newly engaged with the AFWI—become passionate about communicating and applying the Brain Story in their professional networks and spheres of influence.