Since 2008, we have been gathering community, clinician and stakeholder perspectives from across the country. One of our earliest findings was that, despite the high prevalence of pain conditions among Indigenous children, there were only an estimated 2 out of 800 Indigenous children who were referred to the IWK Health Centre’s Complex Pain Team from across the Maritime Provinces.

We have since gathered a team who represents community leaders, clinicians, Elders and practice-based researchers and over the past six years, we have discovered a lack of research evidence in this area, and consistently heard stories of poor pain-related health care encounters.

To better understand Indigenous children’s pain experience we began conversations with Sharon Rudderham and Shelley Young representing the Mi’kmaq community in Eskasoni. We broadened our query by contacting other pediatric pain clinics (Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver) all of which conveyed the same trends. There appeared to be a link between pain expression, assessment and the likelihood of treatment.

What we know

In our development work (UnPPAC), we sought to answer the questions identified by the Eskasoni community: How do children and youth of all ages express pain? How is children’s pain interpreted and managed by children, parents, teachers, Elders and clinicians?

Family beliefs, culture and historical experiences

Of the 78 Indigenous children/youth from the UnPPAC project, a large majority said they suffer frequently from pain from ear and dental infections and musculoskeletal pain. Their most common response is to ‘be brave’, ‘tough it out’ and ‘hold it in’, a response learned as a child from family beliefs, culture and historical experiences.

Understanding and treating pain

Our Two Eyed Seeing perspective shows us that ‘holding it in’ has implications for how pain is interpreted and treated by health care professionals. Our research has expanded to include other Provinces and plans to address this problem by equipping health care workers with better tools to assess, diagnose and treat pain.

The Kids Hurt App

Find out more about the fun tool we’re developing to help children tell their pain stories to health professionals!

What We Know Eagle