Addressing and Preventing Family Violence Through Hubs of Expressive Arts for Life – HEAL Project

Photo: Izumi Sakamoto, HEAL Advisory Committee member, is demonstrating a movement based practice to showcase an approach to self-regulation to mitigate stress and anxiety in the body. HEAL Co-Create Session at Access Alliance College site.

Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services (Access Alliance) will work with peer researchers, community members as well as academic and community organization partners to implement HEAL, an inter-sectoral, creative, culturally safe, multi-pronged capacity enriching project. This co-design, mixed method, community based participation action research is focused on vulnerable newcomer populations who are survivors of domestic violence in the City of Toronto. The team will develop expressive arts interventions and identify promising or best practices to address the trauma-informed health impacts of family violence and to improve participants’ physical and mental wellbeing.

“Improving the mental health and wellbeing of newcomers at risk of, or experiencing, gender-based domestic violence is the focus of the Hubs for Expressive Arts for Life (HEAL) project. This unique and participatory expressive arts intervention will increase the capacity of participants and the public health sector to effect systemic changes to address and prevent domestic violence.”
Axelle Janczur – Executive Director, Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services

Our Research Goals and Activities

Our key research questions are:

  • Which modalities of Expressive Art Therapy practices can improve health and wellbeing of gender-based domestic violence survivors?
  • To identify the baseline needs of newcomer survivors of domestic based violence.
  • What changes can we expect and measure in participants’ attitudes, knowledge, and practices during and after their participation in the designed Expressive Arts Therapy curriculum?
  • How the successful interventions can be scaled up and shared with other organizations?

Project Activities Overview

Activity 1: Adaption and Intervention Planning
The Research and Evaluation project team will conduct a thorough review of existing Expressive Arts practices and tailor the art-based interventions to suits the needs and cultural backgrounds of the six implementation groups (see HEAL Project Summary Flyer). An advisory committee is mobilized consisting of experts in the field of healthcare, settlement and expressive arts to advise on the projects research and program components.

Activity 2: Research and Evaluation
The research and evaluation components will be planned in the co-design process as we set each subproject’s group-specific objectives, art medium, schedule and activities. The project team will come up with an evaluation framework that sets clear metrics and evaluation processes to measure changes that happen to the participants as a result of the intervention.

Activity 3: HEAL Program Implementation
Partner organizations will be equipped with a team of facilitators (e.g. expressive art therapist, peer researcher and mental health counsellor), the HEAL program and accessibility resources to host the HEAL program with participants they have recruited. Participants will engage in the 12 – week HEAL program focusing on art-based activities exploring topics including self-care, healthy relationships, safety, mental wellbeing and rights in Canada. Participants will be assured of confidentiality and informed that their access to services and support is guaranteed whether or not they choose to disclose their violence experience.

Activity 4: Knowledge Mobilization & Hubs for Professional Development
We will actively participate in the Community of Practice initiatives. The HEAL team will synthesize the findings, and create various knowledge products for a range of audiences using diverse dissemination platforms. In the final year, the HEAL will evolve to become a space for multisector partners to network, exchange information and resources, and collaborate on new Expressive Arts projects. Findings will also be disseminated in the community through public facing reports to continue involving participants in the change making process.

Download and print our HEAL flyer here. (PDF 3.1 MB)  

Our Project Team

Photo: Access Alliance Expressive Arts Mural

The HEAL Project team consists of two groups comprised of multi-sector members led by the Access Alliance core team:
Axelle Janczur, Access Alliance Executive Director and Champion of HEAL Project
Akm Alamgir, Director of Organizational Learning and Knowledge, HEAL Research Lead
Christen Kong, Health Promoter, HEAL Project Coordinator

Advisory Committee: Team of interdisciplinary members consisting of experts on gender-based violence, health promoters, settlement workers, art therapists, public health professionals, researchers and peers. Their aim is to advise on the intervention and evaluation design by guiding on ethical practices drawn from expertise in their field.

Research & Evaluation Team: Team led by Akm Alamgir, research lead, and Oeishi Faruquzzaman, research fellow, is comprised of peer researchers, placement students and volunteers. The aim is to design, develop, and implement the research and evaluation components integrated as part of the HEAL Project.

Program Implementation Team: The HEAL Project partners with 13+ partner organizations (e.g. settlement agencies, shelters, community arts etc.) some of which are implementation sites for the HEAL Program. Other disseminate findings and knowledge mobilization projects and resource throughout the project term. This team also consists of facilitators including expressive arts therapists, mental health counsellors, settlement workers, peer researchers, volunteers and placement students to ensure the safety and culturally sensitive implementation of the HEAL program.

HEAL Milestone Reports
Year 1 Adaptation and Intervention Planning

Our Process: Co-Design Approach

Photo: Co-design session at Access Alliance College site. Placement students led by Oeishi Faruquzzaman conduct a thematic analysis of data harvested from the 5th Metropolis Identities Summit.

The HEAL Project implements a Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) approach to inform the development of the program and research design. Co-design is the act of bringing together a variety of stakeholders within the design development process to ensure results meet their needs and are useable. Examples of co-design in the HEAL Project:

Policy Implications: Knowledge and Advocacy

At Access Alliance, research is a powerful social tool not just to better understand the world, but also for creating a better world that is more equitable, fair and just. The HEAL Project aims to contribute to knowledge exchange and advocacy with and for newcomer survivors of gender-based violence to ultimately prevent and address family violence. See below for the ongoing development of knowledge mobilization products as resources when engaging in advocacy work on GBV. Remember, policy impacts people!

Our Funders

Photo: Social Media posts showcasing the Minister of Mental Health and Addictions, Carolyn Bennett, visit to Access Alliance College Site to announcement Public Health Agency Recipients to prevent and address family violence.

The Honourable Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Mental Health and Addictions and Associate Minister of Health, visited Access Alliance to announce that $3.5 million in funding to support four Toronto-based initiatives aimed at preventing family and gender-based violence. Access Alliance is one of the recipients to receive funding.

This research study is supported by The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) and is contributing $800,000 over 4 years to support this project. To learn more please see: Government of Canada supports initiatives to prevent and address family violence in the greater Toronto area.

Additional Resources

For more info contact: OR


Access Alliance has received support from the Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund for our ongoing efforts to bring expressive arts initiatives to marginalized and vulnerable newcomer populations in Toronto.  Find out more and watch the video here.