Agir tôt: Brain, Development and Behaviour clinics at the Children’s expand services with new funding boost


MSSS province-wide funding aims to improve screening and services for children with developmental delays

For children aged 0 to 5 years with suspected developmental delays, the importance of timely diagnosis is critical. Unfortunately, wait times in Quebec for services and interventions have not always allowed for that so in an effort to address the issue, the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux (MSSS) recently launched a new program, Agir tôt. Through funding and support to the health network, the program aims to reduce wait times for identifying and referring children with developmental delays for stimulation and support screening, as well as increasing intervention and diagnostic services for those who need it.

The program includes tools for CLSCs and community physicians, support for CIUSSS and CISSS organizations to build up their frontline services related to neurodevelopment, and funding for pediatric CHUs like the Montreal Children’s Hospital (MCH) to increase services to children with more complex needs who are referred to the hospital.

A bright spot during the pandemic

Maia Aziz, Clinico-administrative Head, Allied Health Services, MCH, is a member of the Core Committee for Brain, Development and Behaviour (BDB) at the Children’s. “We applied for the Agir tôt funding in late 2019 but when the pandemic hit, we just assumed nothing would be happening for a while,” she says. “Then this past November, we learned that the funding was coming through and we could start hiring new clinicians. It was such a bright spot after so many months dealing with the pandemic. Our team was so uplifted by the news.”

The Agir tôt funding has already made a huge difference in how BDB provides services. “Part of the mandate was adding 9.5 full-time (FTE) multidisciplinary clinical positions and we were fortunate to fill most of them in just a few months,” says Maia. “It allowed us to expand and reorganize the BDB clinics and start seeing children in a more timely way.”

Maia credits the BDB Clinics Leadership Group, made up of Allied Health professional and clinic coordinators and their physician partners, for their work in organizing the clinic expansion and changing the assessment model. They’ve also been working closely with their community partners to improve how children and their parents move freely between the Children’s, community partners, schools, and other organizations depending on their needs.

Increased telehealth services 

Expanding BDB services happened around the same time that new tools and protocols such as the green screen developed by the hospital’s speech language pathology service were created to adapt to the pandemic. “We still see a fair number of patients in person, and some of our tests really have to be done in person,” says Maia. “But whatever we can do by telehealth, we’re doing it. Beyond providing ways to help us adhere to pandemic protocols, telehealth can also ease the burden of traveling back and forth to the hospital for some families who are already dealing with so much. Our plan is to continue with a hybrid model in the future.”

Shorter wait times, better long-term outcomes

One of the next steps of Agir tôt will be the introduction of an electronic screening platform rolled out across the province later this year that will allow clinicians to conduct standardized screening questionnaires with families.

In the few months since receiving Agir tôt funding, BDB is already seeing reductions in their waiting list. Maia says it has really brought new energy to the team. “We’ve been able to increase our capacity to assess and diagnose, and any move in that direction is always good news. There’s so much research showing the impact of early intervention on long-term outcomes, and seeing children as early in the process as possible is incredibly important. With these new resources and support, we’re getting much closer to that goal.”