Director of Child Psychiatry Dr. Paola Habib credits donors to the JGH Foundation with allowing the program to succeed

The Department of Child Psychiatry at the Jewish General Hospital (JGH) is unique in some important ways: it is a special pediatric psychiatric service offered by the hospital, and it has its own building.

But in a crucial way, it is like many other services at the JGH – it couldn’t fully offer what it does without the support of donors to the JGH Foundation.

“Donors are vital in allowing us to provide essential and unique mental health services to children in the community,” said Dr. Paola Habib, Director of Child Psychiatry at the JGH’s Centre for Child Development and Mental Health, a post she has held since 2017.

Along with providing outpatient screening, evaluation and care for the range of psychiatric disorders in children up to 16 years old in a family-centred and culturally sensitive manner, the JGH operates a Day Treatment program for children from ages 5 to 12.

Two multidisciplinary teams, one for children aged 5-7 and another for those 8-12, work with a total of 56 children daily in a dedicated facility at the JGH, in a colourful, welcoming and constructive environment that is designed to be destigmatizing and positive. The children receive customized care and treatment using a patient-centred approach in a multicultural context.

Children participate in special education classes and benefit from individual and group therapy, social skills training, occupational therapy, and art therapy. They have a psychological assessment and also have weekly family therapy and interventions. If necessary, they may be prescribed medication.

“Our patients have a broad range of psychiatric disorders, and the efficacy of our programs is supported by research,” said Dr. Habib. “The goal is the successful reintegration of these kids into their community and schools.”

While attending the day hospital four days a week, the patients spend one day each week back at their regular school to maintain continuity and ease their ultimate reintegration into school.

Transitional Team Service: a vital resource

When they are ready – which can take several weeks or months or up to a full academic year – the children reintegrate into their school. In some cases, this happens with the help of the JGH Transitional Team Service, a vital resource that is completely funded by the JGH Foundation. “The transition team is the vital link to make sure the child’s progress is maintained as they transition out of the day program and continue to succeed,” said Dr. Habib. “The donations that support that team play a crucial role in the success of the program.”

Another service of the Child Psychiatry department that is made possible by donations is that of a speech and language pathologist. This is vital since children with psychiatric issues sometimes have speech and language challenges which are important to overcome for overall progress to be made.

Private funding supported the creation of a separate building for all the child psychiatry services and the creation of a welcoming and secure environment for them. The pavilion, named for major donors Ruth and Saul Kaplan, was opened for the service in 2010. Major donations for the child psychiatry department have also come over many years from the family of Rose and David Bloomfield.

With high demand, there is a waitlist for the program, and potential candidates are given an assessment to determine their eligibility. Admitted students in the Day Hospital Service can come from anywhere in the Montreal region using a bus service provided by their school board. Along with donations to the JGH Foundation, Dr. Habib said one of the vital elements in the success of the Day Hospital program has been the dedication and continuity of its staff, which includes psycho-educators, teachers, social workers, psychologists, occupational therapists and psychiatrists as well as numerous students, interns and residents. “The team is experienced, expert, compassionate and always goes the extra mile for our patients,” she said. “We all benefit from the long experience of so many of them.”

Helping parents and children to overcome stigma

Though progress has been made in our society about attitudes towards mental illness, Dr. Habib said a part of the team’s work involves relieving parents’ concerns that they are to blame for their child’s mental health problems. “It’s not bad parenting and can happen to anyone,” she said. “Parents are often burned out when we see them but feel so validated when they see others with similar problems. However, there’s no doubt that, unfortunately, sometimes they face stigma.”

Many of the children taking part in the program are also relieved to be getting treatment and to be with peers with similar challenges. “Often we hear from kids that they feel validated and that being understood creates a good feeling that they are accepted and unjudged,” said Dr. Habib. “They have often had a hard time at school, and our program helps build their self-esteem. We want to treat them early to allow them the best chance for recovery.”

Donors play a large role in making that possible. “We’ve been very blessed that people think of us and want to help us,” Dr. Habib said. “Our work is only possible because of donations. The kids and families are very grateful.”

To make a donation to the Jewish General Hospital Foundation, please go to