There are many influences, stressors and life circumstances that affect pregnant women’s and new mothers’ alcohol use, yet few so challenging and heartbreaking as the experience of intimate partner violence (IPV) and other forms of abuse.
Holistic community-based programs that aim to engage pregnant women and gender diverse individuals with lived experience of violence are challenged to help everyone feel safe, and to access the services that they and their children need. In many ways the overall service approaches of these programs – being harm reduction oriented, non-judgemental, culturally safe and trauma informed – go a long way towards creating the needed safety and support.
The Breaking the Cycle (BTC) program in Toronto took on the role of assisting community based programs that work with families who may be living with IPV, to articulate and enhance their support approaches. BTC received a grant from the Public Health Agency of Canada to develop and share with over 800 programs across Canada, both a resource manual (Building Connections: Supporting Community-Based Programs to Address Interpersonal Violence and Child Maltreatment) and training that helped these programs build further awareness of IPV and their capacity to deliver trauma informed approaches. Connections is a manualized group intervention that supports increased understanding by mothers about positive relationships and their importance to healthy parenting and healthy child development. This work illustrates BTC’s ever growing understanding of the many impacts of trauma on mothers and their children, and the importance of embedding trauma-informed approaches in the delivery of addiction, mothering and early childhood intervention services.
The Breaking the Cycle program recently published the findings arising from the evaluation of this work in the document “What we Learned”. It documents the impact on: women who participated in the Connections groups, the group facilitators, other staff in the prenatal and child development organizations who engaged in the training and group delivery, and the organizations as a whole. Really compelling is the section on how women increased awareness of the impact of abuse, of children’s brain development, and of positive and mindful parenting; as well as their changes related to forgiveness and healing, self-care, self-esteem and empowerment. The facilitators also benefitted immensely in awareness, competency and overall through integrating and advocating for trauma-informed perspectives in their daily working relationships. The document is rich in detail about the impact of this important work to address intimate partner violence through relational and trauma informed approaches in community-based services, including Indigenous specific services.
Key to what they learned, Breaking the Cycle identified 4 fundamental practice principles which are definitely relevant to all the work we do on FASD prevention and intimate partner violence:
- Readiness is critical. There is background work that must be done first, before a group like Connections that addresses trauma can be implemented.
- Safety is vital. Trauma-informed principles must be established and integrated into your organizational practices before women will feel safe enough to get involved with Connections.
- Relationships are the building blocks of engagement. Women who experience IPV have limited experience of supportive relationships and find building safe and healthy relationships with others, including their children, difficult. It is imperative that service providers model supportive relationships during the implementation of Connections.
- Research and evaluation are critical components of all programs, with co-occurring commitment to respect community wisdom. The commitment to research and evaluation needs to be accompanied by a flexible group approach for participating organizations who know the needs of their communities best.
These lessons are a tremendous gift to all service providers who take on this important work. Much appreciated Breaking the Cycle!