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This September 9th marks 19 years since the first International FASD Awareness Day. Building awareness is multi-faceted and, for long-time advocates of FASD prevention, it can seem that we take two steps forward and one step back.

We asked four members of our Network Action Team on FASD Prevention (pNAT) to reflect on the work they have done over the years in their community of Victoria, BC. They bring perspectives on how practice approaches, policy and research intersect to build effective FASD prevention efforts within the larger goal of supporting the health of women and families in general.

Many people, including health professionals, believe that there is a greater negative impact from opioid exposure rather than alcohol exposure. The current opioid crisis provides us with a unique opportunity for FASD prevention.
Lenora Marcellus — Associate Professor of Nursing, University of Victoria

I have had the opportunity over many years to work with Neonatal Intensive Care Unit teams related to supporting infants experiencing withdrawal from opioids. This issue has actually continued to grow related to the prescription opioid epidemic and fentanyl crisis that is impacting many communities, including here in British Columbia where the Provincial Medical Health Officer declared a public health emergency in 2016 in response to the rise in drug overdoses and deaths. What continues to surprise me in this work is how the issue of prenatal alcohol exposure rarely, if ever, comes into the conversation. Many people, including health professionals, believe that there is a greater negative impact from opioid exposure rather than alcohol exposure. The current opioid crisis provides us with a unique opportunity for FASD prevention . The strategies for supporting women during pregnancy, many developed by members of the pNAT, have been demonstrated in research to be effective, no matter the substance. I encourage you to partner with women, advocates and professionals in your community to highlight the importance of FASD prevention within the many conversations that are taking place about opioid use during pregnancy across Canada and beyond.

The proof is in – these kinds of wraparound programs that join a FASD-informed approach, with being culturally safe, trauma-informed and women-centred are successful and make a significant difference.
Amanda Seymour – Programming and Practice – Coordinator, HerWay Home

HerWay Home’s 5th Anniversary was earlier this year and I’ve been reflecting on how far the program has come since the visioning and advocacy done by community members leading to its opening in 2013. We have had the privilege of working with over 220 women and being allowed into their lives and that of their families. We have seen the impressive strides and successes the women have made and witnessed their love for and connection with their children. I’ve also reflected on how much more society needs to do. To prevent FASD along with the myriad harms from substance use and ongoing violence and trauma, we must address all the social determinants of health. Women report a positive change in their lives due to their connection with other women in the program, the support, trust and respect they receive from staff and the access to practical supports, health care and counselling. When I look forward to the next 5-10 years I would like to see programs like this one be available in many communities on Vancouver Island where I live, across BC and across Canada. The proof is in – these kinds of wraparound programs that join a FASD-informed approach, with being culturally safe, trauma-informed and women-centred are successful and make a significant difference. Women are able to reduce or abstain from substance use, improve their mental health and keep their children or see them returned to their care when they receive non-judgemental, harm reduction supports and tangible, practical help.

[We now have] … a set of Evaluation Maps to provide guidance and tools for developing, implementing and evaluating FASD-related programs (www.fasd-evaluation.ca).
Deborah Rutman – Principal and Co-Founder, Nota Bene Consulting Group & Adjunct Associate Professor, School of Social Work, University of Victoria

As a researcher and program evaluator, I feel immensely privileged to be able to learn about and report on the incredible work undertaken by staff at diverse FASD prevention programs and to hear women’s stories and experiences, including about what a tremendous difference these wrap-around programs such as HerWay Home make to women and their families. For me, one of the exciting opportunities – and one of the challenges – of evaluating FASD prevention programs is depicting the complexities associated with FASD and FASD-related programming: complexities in terms of the inter-related issues that women and families struggle with; complexities in terms of the range of services and program activities that matter to women; and complexities in terms of the myriad program outcomes that, as evaluators, it is important to document, including: women feeling safe and not judged; women having improved basic needs support, nutrition and safe housing; healthy births; reduced child welfare involvement; increased mother-child connection; abstinence/reduced or safer substance use; and women’s sense of connection and hope. Several years ago, our Nota Bene team, partnering with Nancy and with lots of input from pNAT members, developed a set of Evaluation Maps to provide guidance and tools for developing, implementing and evaluating FASD-related programs. Currently, with funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada and in partnership with eight inspiring programs across the country, our team is undertaking the Co-Creating Evidence study: a ‘first in Canada’ national evaluation of wrap-around programs that work with pregnant or recently parenting women with substance use and other complex issues. We have just completed our first round of data collection at all eight sites and we look forward to sharing our findings with NAT members – and beyond – in the coming months.

It so gratifying that for a decade now, we in Canada have been able to meet virtually in this pNAT to share ideas and identify ways to collaborate on research, practice and policy related to alcohol and FASD prevention.
Nancy Poole – Researcher and Knowledge Translation – Director, Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health

Every time International FASD Day comes around, I think both of the tremendous work people are doing on FASD prevention and how much there still is to do. I am so lucky to have colleagues like Lenora, Deborah and Amanda who are committed to FASD prevention in my own city! We get together over dinner fairly regularly to talk about how our work fits together, and how we can actively work together in various combinations to advance FASD prevention research, practice and policy. In particular, we have been able to lend lots of support to the establishment and ongoing enhancement of programming at HerWay Home. Amanda, Deborah and Lenora have also been core members in our national work on FASD prevention where we link and advance the work on research, evaluation, practice and policy through the Network Action Team on FASD Prevention (pNAT) that is funded by the CanFASD Research Network. It so gratifying that for a decade now, we in Canada have been able to meet virtually in this pNAT to share ideas and identify ways to collaborate on research, practice and policy related to alcohol and FASD prevention .

A newly published book entitled Mothers, Addiction and Recovery underscores the value of focusing on maternal identity and meaning for supporting women with children through addiction and recovery. By bringing together the voices of women with lived experiences, as well as program practitioners, policy makers, and researchers from across Canada, the editors illustrate the gendered nature of addictions (including gambling, food and smartphones) and the value of harm reduction and holistic approaches to healing and recovery.

Members of this Prevention Network Action Team contributed articles to the book. In “Mothering and Mentoring: The PCAP Women’s Quilt”, Dorothy Badry, Kristin Bonot, and Rhonda Nelson describe the quilt project undertaken by mentors and program participants from the Parent Child Assistance Program (PCAP) project in Alberta. Named “Woven Together”, the quilt is a visual expression of the powerful relationship ties that the women and mentors created together. As well, the article offers a historical perspective on FASD and FASD prevention efforts.

In a chapter entitled “Beyond Abstinence: Harm Reduction during Pregnancy and Early Parenting” Lenora Marcellus, Nancy Poole, and Natalie Hemsing reflect on the historical concern around substance use during pregnancy and how important it is, now, to bring a gendered and harm reduction orientation to our responses. They conclude that, regardless of the substances used, harm reduction approaches address the complex life circumstances of women, such as culture, trauma, connection to children, and practical socio-economic realities. They describe emerging and established programs that use harm-reduction and trauma-informed approaches in order to provide tailored systems of care that are non-punitive, responsive and effective for women and families. Many of these programs have been featured in this blog (see below).

This book is published by Demeter Press and features many other articles that address the experience of mothering within the context of addictions. Although the voices of women with lived experiences are included in part, the editors, Wendy E. Peterson, Laura Lynn Armstrong, and Michelle A. Foulkes, regretfully acknowledge that the book is missing the unique perspectives of Indigenous women.

For related information, see these earlier posts:

REACHING AND ENGAGING WOMEN: WHAT WORKS AND WHAT’S NEEDED May 15, 2017

TARGETING STIGMA AND FASD IN MANITOBA June 26, 2017

HOUSING IS KEY COMPONENT TO WOMEN’S RECOVERY August 19, 2017

DEVELOPING AN INDIGENOUS APPROACH TO FASD PREVENTION IN BC’S FRASER SALISH REGION December 11, 2017

ALBERTA’S PCAP WOMEN’S QUILT: “CREATING A BOND . . . BUILDING A RELATIONSHIP” April 22, 2016

WEBINAR JUNE 23 – WORKING WITH PREGNANT AND PARENTING WOMEN: LEARNINGS FROM HERWAY HOME June 16, 2016

HARM REDUCTION AND PREGNANCY: COMMUNITY-BASED APPROACHES TO PRENATAL SUBSTANCE USE IN WESTERN CANADA February 26, 2015

THE MOTHER-CHILD STUDY: EVALUATING TREATMENTS FOR SUBSTANCE-USING WOMEN March 18, 2015

THE MOTHERING PROJECT/MANITO IKWE KAGIIKWE IN WINNIPEG, MANITOBA May 1, 2015

FASD PREVENTION AND SOCIAL DETERMINANTS OF WOMEN’S HEALTH: ASSESSING THE EVIDENCE March 5, 2012

why-do-girls-and-women-drinkThe Washington Post recently featured an article on the normalisation of heavy drinking for women. Citing targeted advertising and multiple media, particularly to girls on social media, the article outlines the dangers in this trend of treating alcohol as a lifestyle rather than a drug. The obvious dangers are that normalising heavy drinking will increase the number of alcohol-exposed pregnancies and have a negative impact on girls’ and women’s health. Advertising exploits the positive connections women seek with each other, making it about drinking together and promoting it on t-shirts, cups, cards and even wine labels.

The liquor industry is attempting to link drinking with gender equality. But there is nothing equal or liberating about the risks women and girls face, or the distain that is heaped upon them for drunkenness. A recent article in the Daily Mail supported public shaming of binge drinking by young women in particular, and featured numerous denigrating photos of them on New Year’s Eve. Many pointed out the hypocrisy of moralising (Suzanne Moore, The Guardian). A different dialogue is needed: one that focuses on facts, health, education, and creates platforms of conversation and support.

It’s science not sexism that reveals the risks and consequences of heavy drinking for women and girls, and ways to reduce harm. We have learned why women may drink, the effectiveness of non-judgmental approaches to reducing harm, and best practices and policies for promoting health. The facts are not as confusing as some suggest and by focusing on them, we can counter normalising and moralising.

  • Women’s bodies process alcohol differently, so woman’s alcohol level will be higher than a man drinking the same amount. Canada’s low-risk drinking guidelines reflect this sex difference.girls-alcohol-pregnancy-picture
  • Men, in general, are riskier drinkers than women as evidenced by rates of alcohol-related injury and mortality, but women have more chronic health risks related to heavy drinking (Wilsnack & Wilsnack, 2013).
  • Beyond the risk of addiction, Jennie Cook’s research found a causal link between drinking and at least 7 forms of cancer for both sexes (Connor, 2017).
  • Claims of protective factors for cardiovascular disease are coming under scrutiny and skepticism even as these claims remain a core industry research topic and argument for drinking (Chikritzhs, Fillmore, & Stockwell, 2009)
  • How and when we present the facts of drinking alcohol to women and their partners makes a difference to the health of women and their families (See 10 Fundamental components of FASD Prevention from a women’s health determinant perspective).
  • Prevention of alcohol harms requires a tiered response in policy, practice, and messaging (See FASD Prevention: Canadian Perspectives)
  • Comprehensive and integrated programs that build relationships work best for supporting women in making healthy choices for themselves and their families (See Mothercraft’s Mother-Child Study)

References

Chikritzhs, T., Fillmore, K., & Stockwell, T. I. M. (2009). A healthy dose of scepticism: Four good reasons to think again about protective effects of alcohol on coronary heart disease. Drug and Alcohol Review, 28(4), 441-444. doi:10.1111/j.1465-3362.2009.00052.x

Coalescing on Women and Substance Use. http://coalescing-vc.org/virtualLearning/section2/documents/GirlsAlcoholPregnancyinfographic7.pdf

Connor, J. (2017). Alcohol consumption as a cause of cancer. Addiction, 112(2), 222-228. doi:10.1111/add.13477

Wilsnack, R. W., & Wilsnack, S. C. (2013). Gender and alcohol: consumption and consequences. In P. B. Peter Boyle, Albert B. Lowenfels, Harry Burns, Otis Brawley, Witold Zatonski, Jürgen Rehm (Ed.), Alcohol: Science, policy and public health (pp. 153-160). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

 

 

For the last four years, HerWay Home in Victoria, BC, has been providing outreach, medical and social services to pregnant and parenting women with difficult lives in a one-stop supportive environment. On June 23 from 9:00-10:00 a.m. PST, there will be a free webinar to share the results of a first-phase evaluation of HerWay.

Deborah Rutman and Carol Hubberstey of Nota Bene Consulting, and Nancy Poole of BC Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health will discuss lessons learned and promising practices, and lead a discussion on working with pregnant and parenting women affected by substance use, violence and mental health issues. With its child-focused, women-centred and family focused approach, HerWay Home encourages positive parenting and healthy outcomes for children and women.

Click here for more information and register by June 20th at http://fluidsurveys.com/surveys/bccewh/herway-home-evaluation-webinar/

To learn more about HerWay home and similar programs, see these previous postings:

 

NDARC Guide

This new resource from the National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Australia, is designed for all primary health care professions who see women in a broad range of health care service settings during the course of their practice.

The best practices guide builds on the evidence for providing coordinated, supportive and comprehensive care to pregnant women who use substances by providing a model for reducing the harm from alcohol and substance for women and their babies. See page 12 of this guide for a clearly charted overview of how physicians and other health care practitioners can support withdrawal, do psycho-social and nutritional interventions, and address barriers to care for pregnant women.

The model acknowledges the interconnections that impact a woman’s use of substances during pregnancy – including domestic violence, mental health, smoking, and stigma – and provides a guide for identifying risk and next steps for further assessment, support and/or treatment. See page 9 for a view of how identification differs for women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy, or not planning a pregnancy.

It also moves beyond normal referral and coordination practices by using a holistic assessment process and designating a case coordinator or clinical lead to ensure “assertive follow-up.” Assertive follow-up consists of: making sure women are supported during pregnancy and birth; keeping mothers and their babies in the hospital so that post-birth assessments for mother and child can be done and plans for support and services are in place; providing breastfeeding, safe sleeping, parenting skills and contraception support; as well as, interfacing with partners, family members, and community agencies in support of the woman and her child.  See page 16 for more discussion on assertive follow-up and pages 19-20 for “Addressing barriers to care”.

Although the extensive resources that are included in this guide are geared for practitioners in Australia, many of them provide topic-specific information that practitioners everywhere may find helpful. See pages 24-27 for website links.

For more on screening in primary care settings, see previous posts:

For more on FASD prevention in Australia, see previous posts:

 

 

 

 

Edmonton inner-city program - Aboriginal - CBC'

The Healthy, Empowered and Resilient (H.E.R.) Pregnancy Program in Edmonton, Alberta uses professional staff and peer support workers to reach at-risk pregnant and parenting women in inner city Edmonton. The program, developed by Streetworks, supports street-involved women to access healthcare services before and throughout their pregnancy and address issues such as addiction, poverty and family violence.

CBC News featured the H.E.R. Pregnancy Program last week in the article “Pregnant aboriginal women find ‘world of difference’ in Edmonton inner-city program” (July 27, 2015). Nikki Wiart interviewed staff and clients of the program and learned about the importance of outreach, peer support, and the impact of early engagement with services on pregnancy and parenting outcomes.

90% of the program’s clients are Aboriginal while 50% of the staff is Aboriginal. Morgan Chalifoux, a pregnancy support worker, with the program describes how her personal experiences as a teen mother and living on the streets can make a difference: “”Honestly, if I wasn’t aboriginal, if I didn’t have the experience, if I didn’t use when I was on the street, if I didn’t understand what it was like to have my son threatened to be taken away from me … I wouldn’t be able to have the success that I have now with the clients.”

The program uses a harm reduction approach to addressing alcohol and other substance use during pregnancy. An evaluation of the program found that:

  • 76% of 139 pregnant women who connected with the program reported substance use, typically alcohol (32%), marijuana, and other drugs
  • While connected with the program, women reported elimination of use (40%), safer use (37%), and reduction of substance use (26%) at least once during their pregnancy with the program

The Alberta government has committed to funding the program for another three years as well as developing similar programs in Red Deer and Calgary.

For more on the H.E.R. Pregnancy Program, see earlier posts:

cbc mothering project

Manito Ikwe Kagiikwe (The Mothering Project), located at Mount Carmel Clinic in Winnipeg’s North End, provides prenatal care, parenting and child development support, group programming, advocacy, and addiction support for vulnerable pregnant women and new mothers.

CBC News interviewed Stephanie Wesley and Margaret Bryans about the program earlier this week. Bryans, a nurse and program manager at Manito Ikwe Kagiikwe, discusses the successes of the program since it first opened two years ago. The article focuses on the importance of supportive relationships and the value of a ‘focus on kindness’: “Women who are pregnant, who are using drugs and alcohol are one of the most stigmatized groups in our community.” (The Mothering Project aims to break cycle of addiction, CBC News, April 28, 2015).

MC_WebBanner_Mom

The program is a wonderful example of a integrated and holistic pregnancy program for women with addiction and related concerns. The program is based on principles of harm reduction. (Learn more about harm reduction and similar programs in this booklet, Harm Reduction and Pregnancy: Community-based Approaches to Prenatal Substance Use in Western Canada).

Since the program opened two years ago, 49 women have participated. Early evaluation findings show that, at the beginning of the program, 100% of women were actively using substances, 97% had never completed a substance use treatment program and 56% did not have a prenatal health care provider. Over the course of the program, 36% stopped using alcohol and drugs, 47% reduced their use, 39% attended an addiction treatment facility and 100% accessed prenatal care. Over half of mothers have been able to take their babies home with them from the hospital. Check out the infographic below for more.

MP-INFOGRAPH-PRINT-FIN-NB_Page_1
MP-INFOGRAPH-PRINT-FIN-NB_Page_2

Pages from HR and Preg Booklet_web

This 16-page booklet provides a short introduction to harm reduction approaches during pregnancy.

Harm Reduction refers to policies, programs and practices that aim to reduce the negative health, social and economic consequences that may ensue from the use of legal and illegal psychoactive drugs, without necessarily reducing drug use.

Harm reduction  can be an important approach to FASD prevention for women who struggle with addiction and related concerns and who are often at highest risk for having a child with FASD.

The booklet gives an overview of evidence-based harm reduction approaches during pregnancy and provides concrete examples from integrated maternity programs in Western Canada that work with women with substance use concerns.

Programs profiled include: Sheway in Vancouver, Maxxine Wright Place in Surrey, HerWay Home in Victoria, H.E.R. Pregnancy Program in Edmonton and Manito Ikwe Kagiikwe (The Mothering Project) in Winnipeg.

Other topics discussed include the role of housing, peer support, rooming-in, methadone and buprenorphine use during pregnancy, and outreach.

Download Harm Reduction and Pregnancy: Community-based Approaches to Prenatal Substance Use in Western Canada from the BC Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health website.

FASDInformedPracticeFinalVersionSeptember9-2013_pdf

FASD informed practice can include:

  • An awareness that FASD (diagnosed and undiagnosed) is a reality for many individuals involved with a variety of community-based programs
  • A strong theoretical and practical understanding of the traits, characteristics, barriers, and needs of those affected by FASD
  • A willingness on the part of program staff, including administration, reception, and frontline workers, to participate in ongoing FASD education and training initiatives
  • Agency policies that accommodate the unique needs of individuals living with FASD in order to create a program that works for all participants
  • A respectful and individualized approach to service delivery that recognizes individual strengths

This guide from the College of New Caledonia is designed to assist programs in providing FASD-informed services and supports. The approaches discussed were developed from evidence-based research and from the practical experience of individuals working with women and their families who may be living with FASD.

The guide includes sections on promoting dialogue about alcohol and drug use during pregnancy, contraception, trauma-informed practice, effective group facilitation, strategies for individual support, and examples of exercises that can be used in group programming.

FASD Informed Practice for Community Based Programs can be downloaded from the College of New Caledonia website here.

For more about FASD-informed work at the College of New Caledonia, see an earlier posts:

 

 

'Terrace Standard - Program works to reduce FASD'

Check out this news article “Program Works to Reduce FASD” in the Terrace Standard (May 21, 2013) which interviews NAT member, Lisa Lawley, about her work with the Circle of Life Mentorship Program.

In the article, Lisa describes the Circle of Life Mentorship program which runs out of the Kermode Friendship Society. The program has been running for three years and supports women who struggle with drug or alcohol misuse and who are in their child bearing years.

The program works from a harm reduction perspective and supports women with not only addressing their substance misuse but also parenting, family planning, budgeting, time management, mediation and referral to community services, or anything else they identify as important to reaching their goals. Lisa also describes her experiences as a mother of three children with FASD.

Lisa was a speaker at the 5th International Conference on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in Vancouver, BC in February 2013. Check out the video clip here.

Overview: Four Levels of FASD Prevention

Information Sheet: What Men Can Do To Prevent FASD

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