Pregnancy Outreach Programs (POPs) in British Columbia incorporate FASD prevention efforts in their community-based programming. While these programs do not necessarily advertise themselves as providing FASD prevention, their open, non-stigmatizing, and non-judgemental nature make them successful in offering brief support on a range of issues, including alcohol and other substance use.
There are over 70 local pregnancy outreach programs available across the province, including a number of programs that are funded through the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Programs (CPNP). These outreach programs provide support to high-risk pregnant women who are interested in accessing free and voluntary prenatal information and perinatal support services.
Originally, these programs were developed to improve the nutritional status of high-risk pregnant women who typically don’t access such information and services. They offer a variety of supports, often unique to the community that they serve. Some offer daytime support groups for parents and caregivers. Others offer nighttime events where participants get together for arts, crafts, and mocktails. Among other things, these programs provide women with free access to nutrition and health counselling; peer support groups; physical needs (i.e. food vouchers & prenatal vitamins); referrals to counselling services; supports to address issues with alcohol and/or substance use; and supports and resources to help care for their newborns. The diversity in what is offered and their dedication to meeting women where they’re currently at in their life is what makes these programs so effective.
Research shows that a helpful way to encourage disclosure about alcohol consumption during pregnancy is by using a conversational approach. Approaches that are non-confrontational, women-centred, and recognize the social pressure that women may be experiencing are effective at opening “doorways to conversation.” These approaches allow providers to build relationships with their participants, creating a safe space to discuss risks of alcohol and other substance use, and related challenges women face during their pregnancy. In providing a safe and non-judgemental environment that is based on building trust and relationships with women, the practice model of POPs providers fits with this best practice.
Facilitating understanding of FASD and brief support in POPs
The British Columbia Association of Pregnancy Outreach Programs (BCAPOP) is the provincial association for all of the pregnancy outreach programs (POP). Through their work, they provide a platform through which skills, supports, resources, expertise, and information can be shared. Their recent resource, BC Pregnancy Outreach Program Handbook Supplement on Perinatal Substance Use includes information on how to support women and girls facing substance use concerns in a trauma-informed way. The content of this resource is being shared for free through in-person training throughout BC to over one hundred outreach workers by November 2019. BCAPOP also offered a workshop led by Myles Himmelreich at their recent annual conference in Richmond BC, to support understanding by POP workers of the realities of living with FASD.
The important role of social service providers in delivering effective brief interventions on alcohol and substance use, should not be ignored or underestimated. Outreach programs, including CPNP programs, offer a space that provides unconditional supports and resources for women, regardless of where they are at in their health or recovery journeys. We should look to the practice approaches modeled by these programs to find additional ways to meet community needs for action on FASD prevention and build programs that respond to the unique needs of each woman and each community.