Evaluating the role of mentoring programs in FASD prevention

FASD is an issue that spans across all populations. However, some women who use alcohol in high-risk ways during pregnancy have a history of complex background factors, including trauma, childhood abuse, mental illness,  violence, and poverty. For this population, traditional strategies for addressing alcohol use are of limited effectiveness.

One approach to working with women struggling with high-risk substance use has been the development of intensive mentorship support services to women considered most at risk of having a child with FASD. (For examples of these mentoring programs, see earlier posts on Alberta’s First Steps Program and the Mentor Mother Home Visiting Program in South Africa and Saskatchewan’s KidsFirst Program).

Many of these programs are modelled on the Parent–Child Assistance Program (PCAP), which began in 1991 at the University of Washington. This program has been shown to be effective in preventing the births of children with FASD.

A group of researchers from Canada FASD Research Network (NAT 4) is focusing on the research and evaluation of Parent Child Assistance Programs (PCAP), or other mentoring support programs, that provide intensive mentorship support services to women considered most at risk to have a child with FASD. They are interested in better understanding the role these programs play in the prevention of FASD,  how the programs are structured, what successes they achieve, what challenges they face, and what gaps exist.

At the moment, mentor-based intervention programs are unevenly distributed across the country. The provinces of Manitoba and Alberta have led the way in starting PCAPs and other kinds of mentoring programs, with British Columbia,
Saskatchewan, and First Nations communities throughout the north having created some programs that have close similarities to the original PCAP model.

  • In Manitoba, the mentoring programs, called InSight, are funded by the provincial government. They began in 1998 with two sites in Winnipeg (the Nor’West Co-op Community Health Centre and the Aboriginal Health and Wellness Centre) and a rural site in the community of Norway House. By 2009, the program had six sites, 16 mentors and served up to 240 women. In 2010, there were seven sites, including one program that serves only Aboriginal women. Learn more about InSight here.
  • In Alberta, urban PCAP programs were started in December 1999 in Edmonton and Lethbridge, followed soon after by a site in Calgary. There are now 21 PCAP or PCAP-like mentoring programs operating in Alberta under a variety of names such as First Steps, Step by Step, Open Arms, Parent-Child Advocate Program, Mothers to Be Mentorship Program, Coaching Families,  and Youth with FASD Mentorship Program. Learn more about these programs here.
  • On-reserve Aboriginal communities in Canada have developed numerous approaches to addressing FASD in their communities, many of which include a mentoring component. For example, in Saskatchewan, the Northern Inter-Tribal Health Authority began its “Strengthening the Circle” project in 2003 which now operates at four sites. In BC, the Inter-Tribal Health Authority runs the SOAR Mentoring Program. In Alberta, the Blood Tribe Department of Health offers the First Steps for Healthy Babies program.

Click here to learn more about the Network Action Team on the Evaluation of FASD Mentoring Programs, including links to their quarterly newsletter, a poster presentation from the 4th International Conference on FASD, and a report for 2010-2011 which summarizes their first year of work.

(In case you’re wondering about how many Network Action Teams (NAT) there are in the Canada FASD Research Network, the answer is 5. The NATs are:

NAT 1 – Research in Diagnostic Issues
NAT 2 – Intervention on FASD
NAT 3 – Evaluating FASD-Specific Public Health and Education Materials
NAT 4 – Evaluation of FASD Mentoring Programs
NAT 5 – Prevention from a Women’s Health Determinants Perspective

This blog is an initiative of NAT 5).

Image: SOAR mentoring program brochure, Intertribal Health