Minding Mental Health to Create Brighter Futures for Kids

kids meditating

A new national program brings the power of mindfulness to children and youth involved in child welfare.

Children who have undergone Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), which can include the trauma of being placed in government care, are at an increased risk of enduring adverse mental health outcomes throughout their lives. The numbers speak volumes: children and youth in care are almost four times as likely to be diagnosed with a mental disorder and 17 times more likely to be hospitalized for a mental disorder compared to children in the general population.  


Knowing that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada has partnered with Sun Life to deliver the Sun Life Bright Futures Wellness program (Bright Futures), an early intervention initiative designed to prepare children and youth involved in the child welfare system for a lifetime of well-being.  

Scaling the Mindful Kids program developed by Sheena Bousanga of Mindfulology and first implemented by Family and Children Services Waterloo Region (FACS), Bright Futures is a national initiative that teaches kids ages 8-14 easy mindfulness techniques to manage everyday stresses and navigate challenging situations. The program will be implemented by partners across Canada: Catholic Children’s Aid Foundation in Ontario, Partners for Youth (New Brunswick), Batshaw Foundation (Quebec), and Pacific Community Resources Society (British Columbia).  

Mindfulness helps children manage anxiety and other overwhelming emotions and develop self-awareness, self-regulation, healthy coping strategies, positive communication skills, social competency, and self-esteem.​ Facilitators recently completed training on kid-friendly mindfulness-based approaches, including creating a mindful jar—a visual aid used to help youth understand how their thoughts and feelings connect—and using balloons to create a sense of calm. Partners will begin recruiting children, youth, and caregivers to participate in five one-hour classes. 

The promise of this program is illustrated through the experiences of families in Waterloo like Cathy*’s , who witnessed firsthand the transformative power of mindfulness on her children, ages 6 and 10. Her son, Max* , initially apprehensive, really blossomed through the program, making friends and finding his peace in activities like crafting mindful jars (which he could shake when he was angry) and mastering other techniques to calm his mind. By the end of the program, Max was more grounded and self-assured.  

Cathy’s daughter, Kelly*, not only benefited from the program herself but also enjoyed sharing her newfound skills with her family and friends. “I taught my friends something I learned in the program. I learned how to calm myself down when I get angry.” Through simple practices like blowing up the feelings balloon and letting it go, which helps regulate the breath, Kelly strengthened her bond with her parents and empowered herself to manage her emotions effectively. 

For Cathy, mindfulness had a positive impact on her children’s individual growth and their family dynamic, fostering a sense of calm and connection. “It’s quite a tool when you think about it. It’s not like you have to go and buy something; it’s in them.” The program catalyzed moments of pause and reflection, teaching Cathy invaluable lessons in patience and presence. 

Thanks to the Sun Life Bright Futures Wellness program, the power of mindfulness is now available to young people in and from care across Canada. Central to their purpose of helping Canadians achieve lifetime financial security and live healthier lives, Jacques Goulet, President, Sun Life Canada, noted that “Sun Life strives to have the biggest positive impact it can, where it matters most. Knowing that most mental health challenges begin during childhood or adolescence, we’re proud to partner with organizations like the Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada, to ensure our youth have the right tools and support they need early in life.”