Multi-Service Programs for Pregnant and Parenting Women with Substance Use Concerns: Women’s Perspectives on Why They Seek Help and Their Significant Changes

Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health 201916(18), 3299;

by Carol Hubberstey ,Deborah RutmanRose A. SchmidtMarilyn Van Bibber and Nancy Poole 


Within Canada, several specialized multi-service prevention programs work with highly vulnerable pregnant and early parenting women with substance use issues. Experiences of trauma, mental health, poverty, and other factors associated with the social determinants of health complete the picture. Program evaluations have demonstrated their value, but less has been said as to women’s reasons for choosing to seek help from these programs, what they were hoping to gain, or what difference they believe has occurred as a result.

The Co-creating Evidence project is a multi-year (2017–2020) national evaluation of holistic programs serving women at high risk of having an infant with prenatal alcohol or substance exposure. The evaluation uses a mixed methods design involving quarterly program output and “snapshot” client data, as well as in-person, semi-structured interviews and questionnaires with clients, program staff, and program partners.

This article presents findings from interviews with women regarding why they sought help, how they used the services, and what they perceived to be the most significant change in their lives as a result. Obtaining help with substance use was the top theme for what women hoped to get from their participation in their program; however, women’s reasons were often intertwined. Additional motivations included wanting information, support or assistance with: child welfare; pregnancy; housing; getting connected to health care or prenatal care; and opportunities for peer support.

With respect to the most significant life change, themes included: reduced substance use; improved housing; stronger mother–child connection; and improved wellness and social connections. Findings demonstrated that vulnerable, marginalized pregnant and parenting women who are using substances will seek help when health and social care services are configured in such a way as to take into consideration and address their unique roles, responsibilities, and realities.

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