University of Calgary

Q & A: Bob Haslam

Dr. Bob Haslam
Interim Director, Child Development Centre

With the opening of the new Child Development Centre on track for April 2007, Dr. Bob Haslam is a busy man. As the interim director since August of this year, Haslam is charged with creating a vision for the centre, working with stakeholders to develop a comprehensive occupancy plan and to communicate progress to the community. Derek Sankey catches up with Haslam.

Why does Calgary need this type of facility and how will it be unique?

Developmental disorders of children are poorly understood. Furthermore, developmental disabilities are extremely common—in some studies, they occur in 20 percent of the pediatric population. Not only do we not know the cause of many, their prevention and treatment remain a mystery in most cases.

The majority of research studies in this field are poorly designed and are not evidence-based. There is no other facility in Canada that I am aware of that has a similar mandate to that of the Child Development Centre. For these reasons, the development of the centre at the University of Calgary, working in collaboration with clinicians at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, creates an exciting and unique opportunity to make major contributions to the field of developmental disorders in children.

Why is research such an integral part of the centre’s mandate?

I believe that the search for new knowledge is critical if gains are to be made in understanding the mechanisms of developmental disorders. It is essential to carry out the research in an ethical manner, which must be conducted by investigators who understand the essentials of strong evidence-based research.

What led to your decision to accept the position of interim director?

I jumped at the opportunity to chair the strategic planning committee early in 2006 when approached by [U of C President] Dr. Harvey Weingarten at the time when the foundation of the new building had just begun. I saw an exciting opportunity to create a Centre of Excellence devoted to developmental disorders of infants and children that ultimately have serious consequences during adulthood. 

What’s your background in this area?

Although trained as a child neurologist, I was the director of the John F. Kennedy Institute for Physically and Cognitively Impaired Children at the Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore from 1970 to 1975. The JFK Institute is an interdisciplinary centre that provides teaching, clinical care and research directed to children with handicaps, similar to what is proposed for the Child Development Centre at the University of Calgary.

How will the centre serve the community’s needs?

I believe that the focus of the centre’s programs should be geared to the young child: from birth to 5-6 years of age. This is the period when the brain is developing at a very rapid rate and, as a result, is vulnerable to a host of potentially injurious influences. In addition, the first five years represents an epoch of unparalleled learning for each of us. If development is permanently delayed during this period for any reason, there is a good possibility that the ultimate outcome may result in life-long economic, social and health-related consequences. 

What programs will be offered?

I have formed a multidisciplinary planning committee consisting of university faculty, the Calgary Health Region and the community to assist in the selection of programs for the centre. The focus will be on interdisciplinary clinical services, education and research. In addition, interviews are being held with a significant number of community organizations that are concerned about children’s mental health, language and literacy problems, and addiction related to the pediatric age group—and Child and Family Services, to name a few.
We plan to offer courses and other educational programs to undergraduate and graduate university students utilizing the interdisciplinary teaching faculty. We also plan to form research partnerships [with other universities] as well as with community organizations that have identified various issues that may be clarified by well-designed research studies.
In this way, the community will serve as our laboratory.

Who will occupy the centre’s four floors?

The first two floors are confirmed to house the university’s new day care centre and the Department of Pediatrics’ developmental disabilities program, led by Dr. Margaret Clarke. The plan is to start slowly and gradually expand as funding and faculty are recruited. It may take some time to complete the occupancy of the upper two floors. The next step is to identify several themes, which could include things such as early education programs for the 3- to 5-year-old child or a theme devoted to the neurosciences as they relate to child development. Research, service and educational programs involving the faculty and community will then be identified to support one of the themes.

What is your next move?

We are in the process of selecting an international scientific advisory committee consisting of leaders in the field who will provide guidance and advice as we embark on this exciting venture. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all faculty and community workers who have been tremendous in their support and advice during the infancy of this program.