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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 .

Service providers and FASD prevention advocates are well aware of the intersections of trauma, substance use, and mental health issues as first described by researchers like Lisa Najavits (Najavits, Weiss, & Shaw, 1997). Research from the Women and Co-occurring Disorders and Violence study substantiated what many understood intuitively – that women with substance use problems facing complex life issues are best served through multi-leveled, integrated service models that are trauma-informed, gender-specific, and holistic (Amaro, Chernoff, Brown, Arévalo, & Gatz, 2007; Brown & Melchior, 2008).

There is an upcoming opportunity to learn more about applying these approaches to FASD prevention and care in a webinar on April 18th at 9:00 am MST. The CSS Learning Series webinar as part of their FASD Learning Series will feature speakers Candice Sutterfield, Lakeland Centre for FASD, and Dr. Peter Choate, Assistant Professor of Social Work at Mount Royal University and clinical supervisor for the Alberta College of Registered Social Workers. They will address both a prevention and supports & services perspective. Sign up here: http://csslearningseries.ca/trauma-informed-fasd-prevention-and-care-registration-2/

Programs in Canada, like Breaking the Cycle and HerWay Home, currently offer integrated programs for/with pregnant and parenting women with substance use issues. Their program frameworks are trauma- and FASD-informed and they offer substance use treatment/support programming as well as needed social services and referrals at a single access point. Program evaluation findings show that relationship building is the key component benefiting women’s growth and supporting the mother-child relationship long-term. (See their evaluations here: Breaking the Cycle and HerWay Home).

In a very recent study undertaken in Ontario, findings from interviews with women participating in integrated programs, described qualities of a therapeutic relationship that helped women improve emotional regulation and executive functioning (Milligan, Usher, & Urbanoski, 2017). Therapeutic relationships that incorporate trust, care, positive regard and a non-punitive attitude can create a safe attachment from which women can apply effective problem solving in all areas of their lives.

Sign up for the webinar and see these earlier posts for more information:

The Mother-Child Study: Evaluating Treatments for Substance-Using Women, March 18, 2015

HerWay Home Program for Pregnant Women and New Mothers in Victoria, BC, February 12, 2013

REFERENCES

Amaro, H., Chernoff, M., Brown, V., Arévalo, S., & Gatz, M. (2007). Does integrated trauma-informed substance abuse treatment increase treatment retention? Journal of Community Psychology, 35(7), 845-862.

Brown, V. B., & Melchior, L. A. (2008). Women with co-occuring disorders (COD): Treatment settings and service needs. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, SARC SUPPL 5, 365-385.

Milligan, K., Usher, A. M., & Urbanoski, K. A. (2017). Supporting pregnant and parenting women with substance-related problems by addressing emotion regulation and executive function needs. Addiction Research & Theory, 25(3), 251-261. doi:10.1080/16066359.2016.1259617

Najavits, L. M., Weiss, R. D., & Shaw, S. R. (1997). The link between substance abuse and posttraumatic stress disorder in women. A research review. The American Journal On Addictions / American Academy Of Psychiatrists In Alcoholism And Addictions, 6(4), 273-283.

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:

 

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.

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This 12-day telesummit started last Monday on September 9, International FASD Awareness Day.

There is a jam-packed program of amazing speakers, including Canada FASD Research Network members, Lenora Marcellus and Janet Christie.

22 speakers, 7 countries, two speakers a day….. Check out the intro video below or on the FASD 2013 Summit website. Interviews can be replayed for free within 48 hours and MP3s can be purchased at the end of the summit.

New program addresses maternal alcohol and drug use with a range of services under one roof

After six years of planning and research by a volunteer committee of 30 experts, community organizations, advocates and educators, the HerWay Home program began working with women and children on January 7, 2013.

Located in the James Bay Community Project, HerWay Home is a child-focused, women-centred, family-oriented drop-in and outreach program for pregnant women and new moms with substance use challenges and their children.

Women do not need a referral to access the program. The program expects to work with about 70 women in the first year and 100 to 150 in the second year. Currently, there are four staff members who support women accessing a range of services to meet their individual needs. Services include meals during drop-in hours, grocery store food vouchers, health care during and after pregnancy, alcohol, drug and mental-health support, and parenting support.

Read the press release (February 8, 2013) from the Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island here. Check out the news coverage New Victoria program helps new moms with addictions (Cindy E. Harnett, Feb 7, 2013).

For more on HerWay Home, see earlier post: Herway Home ‘one-stop access’ program in Victoria set to open (May 20, 2012).

Learn more about the development of HerWay Home and similar programs across Canada in Supporting Pregnant and Parenting Women Who Use Substances: What Communities Are Doing to Help by members of the Canada FASD Research Network.

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Specialized, Single-Access Perinatal Community Programs in Canada

Members of our Network Action Team on FASD prevention have recently developed a 12-page overview of community programs in Canada that support pregnant and early parenting women who use alcohol and other substances.

Since the 1990s, several communities in Canada have developed specialized programs  to address barriers to accessing prenatal services that exist for many women who use substances. These barriers include:

  • fear of losing custody of children;
  • fear of forced treatment or criminal prosecution;
  • lack of treatment readiness;
  • coexisting mental illness;
  • guilt, denial and/or embarrassment regarding their substance use;
  • and lack of transportation and/or child care.

These programs have been developed with an awareness of how substance misuse is often intertwined with other issues such as homelessness, gender-based violence, involvement with the law, loss of cultural connectedness, and food insecurity.

This overview describes the development of four programs in Canada:

  1. Maxxine Wright Place Project for High Risk Pregnant and Early Parenting Women in Surrey, British Columbia
  2. H.E.R. (Healthy, Empowered, Resilient) Pregnancy Program (Streetworks Program) in Edmonton, Alberta
  3. HerWay Home in Victoria, British Columbia
  4. The Mothering Project in Winnipeg, Manitoba

The document describes how the programs started, how they evolved to meet the unique needs of each community, and describes the research evidence that shows why they work.

If you take a look at the Four-Part Model of FASD Prevention below (see Poole, 2008 here for more on this model), you’ll notice that these type of programs fall under levels 3 and 4.

The third level of FASD prevention is about the provision of recovery and support services that are specialized, culturally specific and accessible for women with alcohol problems and related mental health concerns. These services are needed not only for pregnant women, but also before pregnancy and throughout the childbearing years.

The fourth level of FASD prevention is about supporting new mothers to maintain healthy changes they have been able to make during pregnancy. Postpartum support for mothers who were not able to make significant changes in their substance use during pregnancy is also vital. This will assist them to continue to improve their health and social support, as well as the health of their children. Early interventions for children who potentially have FASD are also important at this stage.”

You can download “Supporting Pregnant and Parenting Women Who Use Substances: What Communities are Doing to Help” from either the Canada FASD Research Network website here or the the BC Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health website here.

For more on this type of community program, see previous posts:

Overview: Four Levels of FASD Prevention

Information Sheet: What Men Can Do To Prevent FASD

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