Why is it called The Offord Centre?
The Canadian Centre for Studies of Children at Risk was established at McMaster University in 1992 following the results of the Ontario Child Health Study. Under Dr. David (Dan) Offord’s leadership, researchers and clinicians from multiple disciplines came together to conduct population studies into a broad range of childhood disorders affecting health and mental development, communication and behaviour. The centre was renamed The Offord Centre for Child Studies in 2002 to honour Dr. Offord’s commitment to helping children.
Who was Dr. Offord?
Dr. David (Dan) Offord was a leading expert on child development, a child psychiatrist, clinician and research scientist who, beginning in the 1980s, addressed the general lack of evidence-based research about the mental and emotional development of children in Canada. He understood there was a need to learn about and address the concerns of children on a broader scale beyond the one-on-one interactions of a psychiatrist’s office. To address this issue he initiated a groundbreaking research project, the 1983 Ontario Child Health Study (OCHS), Canada’s first large-scale observational study of children within families. For the first time, comprehensive, reliable research showed that one in five children was experiencing some form of mental health issue.
Dr. Offord was ‘Dan’ to friends, colleagues and staff alike and was known for his unassuming nature, exuberance and passionate desire to make the game of life fair for all children. The experiences he had as director of a camp for disadvantaged children (Christie Lake Kids) for most of his adult summers left Dan with a realization about the importance of family and environment to a child’s wellbeing. He cared deeply about the inequalities that left children facing obstacles in childhood and often in consequence, throughout life. Dan said,
“Kids in Canada feel they are in a race. It is our job as adults to make sure that the race is fair for them, to level the playing field.”
Dan also said, “In a civic community, all children deserve the right of full participation in community life. Adults must take responsibility for more than their own children.” His ability to communicate those values—of a caring community—and to inspire others to action, changed the lives of countless children.
Dan Offord helped increase the value and importance of social science research into issues such as childhood anger, aggression, anxiety, bullying, antisocial behaviour, readiness for school and school-related anxiety. His impact extended beyond research. He was a valued and tireless advisor to academic and government bodies, explaining the impact of the early years and early childhood experiences as a precursor and predictor of later adult health, quality of life and functioning. That burden of suffering and its toll on all of society is now widely acknowledged, which helps inform policy in government and institutions across Canada and in many other countries.
As an educator in the McMaster University Faculty of Healthy Sciences, Dan helped train a generation of students not only to pay attention to environmental, social and socioeconomic factors that help shape children’s mental and physical development, but also to find ways of counteracting negative factors. He was eager to find best practices and practical solutions for problems through thoughtful, evidence-based research and evaluation. The Offord Centre is a legacy to that goal.
- The Golden Jubilee Medal
- 2001 Order of Canada
- National Health Scientist award from Health and Welfare Canada
- Atkinson Fellow at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research
- Awards from the American Public Health Association, the Psychology Foundation of Canada, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Orthopsychiatric Association, and the Canadian Paediatric Society.
- Policy Advisory Work
- The Ontario Mental Health Foundation
- The Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services
- Institute of Medicine
- National Academy of Sciences
- Premier’s Council on Health, Well-being, and Social Justice.