National Newcomer Navigation Network Program

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The healthcare system can be scary and difficult to navigate for anyone, especially in times of crisis. But when English isn’t your first Language, traditions and cultures are foreign to you, and you have recently arrived from a war torn country where you have been exposed to trauma, it can be downright terrifying.

In response to the Syrian refugee influx in 2015, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) launched a project called National Newcomer Navigation Network Program. The program focuses on breaking down barriers faced by newcomers. This includes linguistic and cultural hurdles to accessing health care, as well as helping newcomers learn about Canada’s universal healthcare system.

One part of the initiative is a fully funded certified educational program, available to newcomer navigators at pediatric and women’s hospitals. The IWK has three successful applicants in this inaugural program, out of a cohort with only 30 people across Canada: Chantal Walsh, Renette Amirault-Laing, and Laura Callaghan.

“This program could not have come at a better time,” Chantal Walsh, Health Promoter, Child Safety Link, says. “More and more of our Child Safety work is being done with newcomers. We are looking to engage with and learn from first voice experience then apply it to our work, including advocacy, policy work, and the implementation of a few more resources if need be.”

Renette Amirault-Laing, Bilingual Nurse Coordinator, Primary Health, says the content of this program fits in really well with her position.

“I have been providing interpretation to a lot more Francophone newcomers, especially from the Congo, Madagascar, and Morocco,” Amirault-Laing says. “Most of the families who have immigrated are women and children. This course concentrates on pediatric and women’s populations.”

She’s particularly excited about the next course – interpersonal communications – because that’s the foundation of her job, building relationships and trust with patients and families. “I think it’s going to provide me with a better understanding of what they’re going through.”

The intensive workload focuses on knowledge translation through theory and practice including:

  • Immigration
  • Sociocultural diversity
  • Inclusion
  • Acceptance
  • Social Innovation
  • Human Relations
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Ethics, justice, and public service
  • Communication

Laura Callaghan, a Nurse Practitioner with the IWK Waterville, Youth Forensics, is interested in the National Newcomer Navigation course from the perspective of the mental health. She is optimistic the course will lead to capacity building in her daily work.

“The coursework has elements that can be implemented throughout the work I do. Can we catch those kids and families early and build awareness about health resources, and engage with them to identify and address barriers?” Callaghan asks. “Learning the academic underpinnings of social justice, social determinants, equity, equality, advocacy in policy – these are all principles to make better decisions.”

All three women are thankful that the IWK is interested in developing better cultural awareness.

“I am excited to see how this will be applied throughout the IWK, as it aligns with the strategic direction of the organization,” Walsh says. “Even though we’re only a few months into the program, we have already tweaked some of our Child Safety Link engagement work based on the best practices from the coursework.”

Amirault-Laing is eager to share what she is learning through the course and inform other health care providers about best practices when working with newcomers. “We are already doing great work here at the IWK. I think this is only going to add to it so we can help families the best we can.”

The course runs from January 2020 to December 2020.

CHEO has also created a website and toolkit for other newcomer-serving organizations to use to support clients who want to access health care. will help Canadian organizations start their own newcomer navigator programs.