infant and early mental health promotion

Nurturing the Seed Project logo

Nurturing the Seed

Indigenous Communities Supporting Infants, Young Children and Their Caregivers

Leading the Way for Life-Long Wellness

Note: If you are a NTS project participant, please log in to the NTS Portal to access materials and more. 


Having access to appropriate services for children, ages 0 to 6, in need of support is a common concern raised by service providers and families. When worries arise about a child’s early development, it can be very difficult to find the appropriate services and/or there are lengthy waiting lists for these services. Families are left feeling concerned and frustrated, and children are left without the right interventions and supports. Nurturing the Seed (NTS) addresses this issue and uses the science of infant and early mental health together with developmental tools and resources to support a child’s development as soon as a concern is raised.

The NTS Model

Nurturing the Seed is a service model, or “community intervention”, created specifically for Indigenous infants, toddlers and young children and their parents/caregivers. The model is designed to guide and support service providers in their work with children and families from birth to age six. Indigenous Elders, service providers, content experts and Infant and Early Mental Health Promotion (IEMHP) worked on the model together, keeping Indigenous culture, traditions, and ways of being and knowing front-and-center in their planning and design.

Use of the NTS model has demonstrated the strongest results when leaders and service providers across organizations and sectors are trained and supported in using the tools. NTS was also developed to support communities and agencies in working collaboratively, and is guided by and tailored to communities’ unique needs. The NTS model includes training, coaching, resources, technology, and ongoing support for implementing and sustaining the model widely in communities.

The NTS Tool

This image describes the 4 steps of the NTS program. It start by identifying the preparation phase of community engagement, agency and service provider agreement and training. It then shows step 1, the first family visit which includes the ASQ screens and family surveys. Step 2 is 2-3 months later and includes the 2nd ASQ screens and the first DSP. After 2-3 months is Step 3, family visit #3 and at this visit are ASQ screens and the next DSP. Step 4 is the final step, Family visit #4 and includes final ASQ screens, surveys and planning with family for next steps.

Nurturing the Seed is a tool that is specifically designed to promote infant and early mental health, to mitigate vulnerabilities and/or to prevent further risks for Indigenous children under 6 years of age in a culturally meaningful way. It does so by allowing service providers to build a Developmental Support Plan (DSP) tailored to young children and their families, that supports parents/caregivers in including simple activities in their daily routine which will 1) reinforce the parent/caregiver-child relationship, and 2) support the child’s development.

Programs and services using NTS, in association with the Ages and Stages Questionnaires (ASQs), increase their capacity to support children and families. The time spent waiting for more intensive services can be optimized through NTS by providing timely, accessible, and meaningful supports to families. NTS guides service providers and families through a process that focuses on the child, their strengths and holistic development as well as the caregiving relationship. It is written in the voice of the child, acknowledging where the child is currently and supporting next steps in their development.

The NTS Project

Nurturing the Seed has evolved over the past several years into a large, pan-Canadian project. The NTS work measures the effectiveness of the NTS model, in particular the use of the tools with families of Indigenous children, from birth to age 6. It monitors the improvement of:

  • infant and early mental health service delivery, 
  • Indigenous children's developmental outcomes, and 
  • Indigenous families’ wellbeing and empowerment.

The Question:

“If we recognize early any risk for a developmental delay, and respond to it with strategies that families/caregivers can embed in their daily routines, can we reduce the risk for a developmental delay and promote a child’s optimal development?”

The Team:

The NTS project team is led by Dr. James Reynolds & team, Queen’s University; Dr. Jennifer Zwicker & team, University of Calgary; and the Infant and Early Mental Health Promotion team at the Hospital for Sick Children.

The project is funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada and Kids Brain Health Network.

The Sites:

There are currently 10 active NTS research study sites across Canada, and several are in the process of joining. Sites are from different geographic locations in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario.

The NTS App

Nurturing the Seed App is available now.

The Nurturing the Seed App is an online developmental support planning tool that was funded by Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) and developed by IEMHP. The app was created to assist service providers and simplify the process of creating Developmental Service Plans (DSP) for the children and families they are supporting. The app provides built-in, step-by-step instructions and prompts that assist practitioners in creating DSPs specific to each child’s strengths and developmental needs. The NTS app allows practitioners increased flexibility to create DSP’s, in a variety of settings (home, childcare, office), using a computer, tablet or mobile device. Currently the app is available exclusively to trained NTS practitioners involved in the Study.

The NTS Forums

The inaugural NTS forum series was organized to provide an opportunity for introductions and networking amongst the NTS sites, service providers, and the project team. Through these forums, we envision that members from each community would exchange stories and learnings, and inspire us and each other, as the project continues to grow and evolve – always influenced by the experiences of our partners. Attendees shared their success stories and challenges, discussed their vision and beliefs about NTS, and contributed their thoughts and views to help inform the next steps of the project.

Upcoming Event Next Forum: November 9, 2023

To view previous forum highlights, please download the report (PDF)

Nurturing the Seed Forum Fall 2022 Highlights

Interested in learning more?

For more information, please contact Lesley Watts, Senior Program Manager.

Infant and Early Mental Health Promotion, the hospital for sick children

Contact Us

Infant and Early Mental Health Promotion
The Hospital for Sick Children

555 University Avenue
Toronto, M5G 1X8
ON, Canada

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