Steering pregnant women away from substance abuse


Amanda Seymour at the James Bay Community Project: “If we’re able to prevent one incidence of a child from having fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, it’s a lifetime of that child living with that condition.”   Photograph By DARREN STONE, Times Colonist

Victoria program is changing lives by helping pregnant women deal with substance-abuse issues. HerWay Home, run out of the James Bay Community Project, started in January 2013, said program co-ordinator Amanda Seymour.

“Really, our goal is help women improve their own health, so that they have healthier pregnancies, healthier births, so that children can stay with their moms and that the moms can quit or reduce their substance use,” Seymour said.

One hundred women benefited from the program in 2016.

A current participant is Aurora, who was 22 and newly pregnant when she was encouraged to try the program by her sister, who raved about her experience with it.

“I felt kind of shy and I didn’t know if I would want to,” she said.

But she relented and decided to show up, and has been going ever since.

“Honestly, without HerWay I wouldn’t have made it this far, I don’t think,” Aurora said.

“As capable as I think I am as a mother, I definitely need this resource more than I can put into words.

“Especially as a single mom it can be difficult to find help.”

She said she is doing well in recovery, and can talk to other mothers about addiction concerns.

“No one’s going to understand the situation I’m in except another recovering mom.”

HerWay Home offers additional services, as well, Aurora said.

“They helped me fill out my B.C. Housing application, which seemed really daunting to me because I didn’t know how to answer a lot of the questions.” Sarah, 27, said she was steered to the program by an addictions counsellor.

“I was a couple of weeks pregnant when I went to treatment and so I needed the supports when I came out.”

Program staff members have also helped her in other ways, Sarah said.

“I don’t have any family or a vehicle, so the support worker actually drove me to my midwife appointments.”

An evaluation report on HerWay Home shared another participant’s view of the program: “It’s a priority shift from money for drugs to money for rent and food and life and children.”

The report said the program is filling a “critical niche” by working with high-risk women, and has welcomed 50 per cent more women than was expected at the outset.

HerWay Home was favourably compared in the report with other successful programs –— Sheway and Maxxine Wright Place on the Lower Mainland, and Breaking the Cycle in Toronto.

Seymour said that most women come to the program when they are pregnant, but some connect when they have infants.

Referrals and word-of-mouth provide a steady flow of clientele.

“Women can just come in, they can come in through a drop-in group, they can call us,” Seymour said. “Often it’s people in the community like other agencies that hear about us.

“They might call if they come into contact with a woman and ask us to go meet with her.”

HerWay Home was created using a number of other initiatives as models, Seymour said, and it was a long time in the making.

“The community spent years working on it,” she said. “It was led by a public-health nurse at the time, Betty Poag.”

Poag brought together community agencies, Island Health, the Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island and researchers to help develop HerWay Home, Seymour said. The concept is beginning to expand across the country, she said.

One major positive coming from the program is that it can be a key to preventing fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, Seymour said.

“If we’re able to prevent one incidence of a child from having fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, it’s a lifetime of that child living with that condition.”

Reducing the need for children to be placed in the care system is another good outcome, Seymour said.

“The more we can keep families together and keep them healthy, our hope is that those kids can do something different with their lives,” she said. “They may not end up in the same situation when they have kids.”

Plans call for HerWay Home to move this year to Saanich Neighbourhood Place, along with the Young Parents Support Network, to be part of an early-years hub.


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