Meet cups key investor | Dr. Karen Benzies

Professor at the Faculty of Nursing and Adjunct Research Professor with the Departments of Pediatrics and Community Health Sciences at the University of Calgary

Introducing Karen Benzies

Dr. Karen Benzies began her career as a registered nurse. Today she is a Professor at the Faculty of Nursing and Adjunct Research Professor with the Departments of Pediatrics and Community Health Sciences at the University of Calgary. She leads a program of research in early parent and child relationships with a focus on children at risk for developmental delays, including behaviour problems. 


As the recipient of numerous awards, she is acknowledged and acclaimed across Canada for her contribution as an academic and professional. More than 110 articles published in peer-reviewed journals, 40 technical reports, and two book chapters substantiate her extensive research and brilliant mind. Of Karen's extensive published articles (110+), over a dozen are in partnership with CUPS.

Early Days

The partnership between Karen and CUPS started 20 years ago, in May 2001. CUPS was implementing an evaluation plan for their Child Development Centre (then known as One World) pioneered by Executive Director, Carlene Donnelly and Senior Director, Robert Perry, and required help in collecting data. They recognized the importance of partnering with someone who had research expertise and recruited Karen as a pro-bono consultant. Karen dedicated every Friday morning to collect data used to map the criteria to write papers and establish credibility for CUPS’ work with government departments and other organizations. “It has been my joy and honour to partner with CUPS,” says Karen. “I went there every Friday morning and fell in love with the mothers and kids.” Twenty years later, Karen’s pro-bono work has become the backbone of her outstanding peer-reviewed and published articles, some of which have been co-written with Carlene, Robert, and other CUPS staff. 


CUPS Child Development Center is a unique two-generational program for parents and their pre-school and kindergarten children. Academic and scientific research indicates that trauma is intergenerational. “The whole family needs support,” reiterates Karen. “Families bring years of baggage. They have been struggling for so long, having suffered in their own family of origin. CUPS breaks that intergenerational cycle of trauma and abuse and allows the kids to get foundationally established in their early years. What is truly different about CUPS is that its focus is on building resilience in the parents.”

Collecting Data

With her prodigious academic background and practical nursing experience, Karen was the perfect candidate for the job. In 20 years, Karen has worked in partnership with CUPS to discern what data to collect and how best to understand the data and write papers that feed information to CUPS and other frontline service agencies. The data enables CUPS to make informed changes to the services they provide with maximum benefit for the client. “Using scientific data creates theoretical alignment within an organization. It influences how you train and invest in your people. You start talking the same language,” says Karen.


Karen speaks highly of the philanthropic work of the Palix Foundation that brought the science and the language of The Brain Story to Alberta. Palix invested in educating the government, researchers, philanthropists, policymakers, and Indigenous communities. “CUPS took brain science and ran with it. It just gets stronger and more powerful in its explanatory power,” recalls Karen. “I took brain science and included it in our research. Everything I do now includes the core brain story. Not only did The Brain Story give me a sense of direction, but it also motivated me to drive the research in so many different ways,” recalls Karen. 

"Karen Benzies’ long-term dedication to CUPS  helped us develop an deeper understanding of how research can play a role in our journey to understand how to help people become more resilient.  Her countless hours over the years allowed us to grow into an entity that combined research, practice and policy.  This gave us a leading edge on becoming an innovative evidence-based organization.  Without her tenacity and staying power, we would not be where we are today."

- Carlene Donnelly 

Hypothesis and Outcomes


The hypothesis is that the CUPS Child Development Center will improve children’s readiness for school and continue to do well into secondary school. All areas of development are measured, such as:

  • Cognitive
  • Language ability
  • Personal and social
  • Fine motor and gross motor development.

CUPS started collecting data from its entrance-level three years olds from the onset. Twenty years later, alumni from the first years of intake into the program are graduating high school and entering post-secondary education. A reason to celebrate!


“Many of the children who come to the program are babies born into families that misuse alcohol and drugs. CUPS supports these families in very intensive ways, and by teaching parents to value themselves, a large portion of those families can stay together,” notes Karen. 


Language skills and vocabulary at preschool age may be one of the best indicators we currently have of the likelihood of high school graduation. After 20 years of collecting and interpreting the data, the singular outcome is that: children who attended CUPS One World Child Development Centre were able to sustain the language skills they gained during the preschool program. Typically, language skills fade once the child moves to a neighborhood school without intensive supports for child development. On average, children were able to sustain most of the gains they made in language development into late adolescence. "These results suggest that CUPS Child Development Centre provides a great environment for development when children need it the most," Karen suggests.  

Taxpayers Dollars Benefit From Partnerships


The data resulting from the partnership between the Faculty of Nursing at the University of Calgary and CUPS is collated in the provincial government data repository.  Karen has been adding data since she started collecting it twenty years ago and firmly believes that shared data is good for the public as it influences policy. Benefactors include researchers, other academic organizations, government departments and frontline service agencies. “An investment that benefits many,” she concludes.


The benefits to government services are substantial. CUPS' action to build resilient lives for Calgarians facing the challenges of poverty and trauma intervenes in a cycle that costs government services a lot of money. Child protection, prisons, hospitals, mental health facilities and more are all taxpayer provided services that are required when people are in crisis. The need for these services are reduced because of CUPS intentional and science-aligned interventions. 


CUPS has built itself out in the past 10 to 15 years, demonstrating that partnership between government and agencies is critical. "It is all about creating a partnership. Get the behavioural neuroscience training and integrate services,” says Karen.


“CUPS is a powerhouse of what can be done with clear direction, aligned scientific thinking and innovative leadership.” 


“CUPS welcomes!” she aids conclusively. “It has unconditional positive regard for human beings.”