Author Archives: edmontonfetalalcoholnetwork

Breaking the cycle: How 2 Indigenous parents kept their kids out of foster care


By Brandi Morin, CBC News

One was a child of a Sixties Scoop survivor who never had a stable home. One was the grandson of a residential school survivor who spent most of his childhood in care. Both were taken from their families at age two. Both fell into despair. And both were determined to not let it happen to their kids.

Alice McKay Dolan

Alice McKay says her 10-year-old son, Dolan, is her saviour. (Alice McKay)


When Alice McKay gave birth to her first child 10 years ago, the experience of becoming a mother changed her life forever.

When she first looked upon her son’s face, she decided she would gather the inner strength to give him the best life possible.

“He [Dolan] was just the greatest thing to ever happen to me. He was my saviour,” McKay said. “Because of him, I’d never be alone again.”

McKay was used to navigating through life feeling alone, having been taken from her mother at age 2.

Her mother had been adopted by a white family in the U.S. during the Sixties Scoop, where McKay said she experienced physical and sexual abuse.

By the time McKay’s mother had children of her own, she was struggling with alcoholism and involved with abusive, alcoholic men, said McKay. Social workers took her children and the cycle carried on.

“For the first while, it was a lot of back and forth between being with my mom and being in care. In 1991, I became a permanent ward [of the Province of Manitoba].… I spent my entire childhood being raised by white people. In nearly every home, I experienced one form of abuse or another.”

After aging out of care at 19, McKay said she lived a roller-coaster-style “wild life,” following in the footsteps of her mother, taking up drinking and partying.

That all changed when she learned she was pregnant. She was determined to break the generational cycle of struggling to keep children.

“Ten years later, with the addition of three more kids, my kids are still my everything. They’ve never been in care and I never want them to experience what I was forced to,” she said.

Generous support from friends and help from parenting organizations made the difference, said McKay, adding it was difficult to pull herself together, but worth every effort to stay healthy.

“Parenting is hard work [already] when you’ve had it modelled for you your whole life. Parenting when you’ve never been taught or shown how to effectively parent your children … that’s something else altogether.”

Damian Abrahams Khaila

Damian Abrahams took parenting and family life programs before his daughter Khaila, 8, was born. (Damian Abrahams)


Damian Abrahams, 31, was taken from his mother by the B.C. provincial government, also when he was two. The Edmonton resident remembers being in care for 70 per cent of his childhood.

His grandmother was a residential school survivor and the effects of the trauma she experienced there trickled down to his mother and then to him, said Abrahams.

There were attempts by the province to return Abrahams to his mother’s care, but he said he’s unsure how much effort was made by the province’s children’s ministry to help her find the supports she needed.

Abrahams got involved with drugs and alcohol at a young age and ended up homeless at 19.

But soon after, he took control of his life and put himself through treatment at an Indigenous healing lodge.

He wanted to make sure that the cycle of family dysfunction, addictions and the sorrow of losing children to the system was broken — even before he had children of his own.

He took an Indigenous parenting program, a family life improvement program and a personal development program.

“On top of all that, I attended ceremony and paid attention to the teachings of the elders,” said Abrahams. “My healing journey started and it was like a reset button was pushed for me.”

The single father said he’s proud to be raising a strong, culturally connected eight-year-old daughter, Khailia, and even more proud that she has never been in foster care.

“Life today is a daily struggle, but it’s the good kind of struggle — normal struggles, instead of struggling with addiction or being on the street.”

He’s now a social worker who works with troubled youth in Edmonton, and he believes more Indigenous social workers need to be recruited to help address the overwhelming representation of Indigenous children in the child welfare system.

“Non-Indigenous workers don’t have the eyes to see what it’s truly like to be an Indigenous family. Non-Indigenous workers don’t understand our world no matter how much Aboriginal training they get. At the very least, there needs to be an Indigenous interpreter liaison working in each CFS office to act as a translator between the two worlds,” said Abrahams.

Education is key

McKay is also working to help better the future of Indigenous families. She is studying to get an education degree at the University of Winnipeg.

“Education will break cycles,” she said.

McKay tries to stay optimistic, but the realities of breaking intergenerational trauma is overwhelming and complicated, she said.

Not that it can’t be done, because she overcame the hurdles to get there, as well as Abrahams.

“I wish I could say it’s a simple solution, but it’s not. We have generations and generations of Indigenous people who are still reeling from the effects of colonialism.”

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Alberta Family Wellness Initiative: BRAIN STORY CERTIFICATION (FREE)



Lifelong health is determined by more than just our genes: experiences at sensitive periods of development change the brain in ways that increase or decrease risk for later physical and mental illness, including addiction. That finding is the premise of the Brain Story, which puts scientific concepts into a narrative that is salient to both expert and non-expert audiences. The Brain Story synthesizes decades of research and reflects a body of knowledge that experts agree is useful for policy-makers and citizens to understand.

The Alberta Family Wellness Initiative (AFWI) has developed an online course to make Brain Story science available to professionals and the public. Brain Story Certification is designed for those seeking a deeper understanding of brain development and its consequences for lifelong health. The course is also designed for professionals seeking certification in a wide range of fields.

Click to download course content: BRST101-CourseOutline

To register or for more information please visit:


Global Prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Among Children and Youth A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis


JAMA Pediatr. 2017;171(10):948-956. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.1919

Key Points

Question  What is the prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder among children and youth in the general population?

Findings  In this meta-analysis of 24 unique studies and 1416 unique children and youth with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, approximately 8 of 1000 in the general population had fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, and 1 of every 13 pregnant women who consumed alcohol during pregnancy delivered a child with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder was found to be notably higher among special populations.

Meaning  The prevalence of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder among children and youth in the general population exceeds 1% in 76 countries, which underscores the need for universal prevention initiatives targeting maternal alcohol consumption, screening protocols, and improved access to diagnostic services, especially in special populations.


Importance  Prevalence estimates are essential to effectively prioritize, plan, and deliver health care to high-needs populations such as children and youth with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). However, most countries do not have population-level prevalence data for FASD.

Objective  To obtain prevalence estimates of FASD among children and youth in the general population by country, by World Health Organization (WHO) region, and globally.

Data Sources  MEDLINE, MEDLINE in process, EMBASE, Education Resource Information Center, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, Web of Science, PsychINFO, and Scopus were systematically searched for studies published from November 1, 1973, through June 30, 2015, without geographic or language restrictions.

Study Selection  Original quantitative studies that reported the prevalence of FASD among children and youth in the general population, used active case ascertainment or clinic-based methods, and specified the diagnostic guideline or case definition used were included.

Data Extraction and Synthesis  Individual study characteristics and prevalence of FASD were extracted. Country-specific random-effects meta-analyses were conducted. For countries with 1 or no empirical study on the prevalence of FASD, this indicator was estimated based on the proportion of women who consumed alcohol during pregnancy per 1 case of FASD. Finally, WHO regional and global mean prevalence of FASD weighted by the number of live births in each country was estimated.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Prevalence of FASD.

Results  A total of 24 unique studies including 1416 unique children and youth diagnosed with FASD (age range, 0-16.4 years) were retained for data extraction. The global prevalence of FASD among children and youth in the general population was estimated to be 7.7 per 1000 population (95% CI, 4.9-11.7 per 1000 population). The WHO European Region had the highest prevalence (19.8 per 1000 population; 95% CI, 14.1-28.0 per 1000 population), and the WHO Eastern Mediterranean Region had the lowest (0.1 per 1000 population; 95% CI, 0.1-0.5 per 1000 population). Of 187 countries, South Africa was estimated to have the highest prevalence of FASD at 111.1 per 1000 population (95% CI, 71.1-158.4 per 1000 population), followed by Croatia at 53.3 per 1000 population (95% CI, 30.9-81.2 per 1000 population) and Ireland at 47.5 per 1000 population (95% CI, 28.0-73.6 per 1000 population).

Conclusions and Relevance  Globally, FASD is a prevalent alcohol-related developmental disability that is largely preventable. The findings highlight the need to establish a universal public health message about the potential harm of prenatal alcohol exposure and a routine screening protocol. Brief interventions should be provided, where appropriate.

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Judge blasts treatment of chronically-addicted patients at Royal Alex


CBC News Posted: Oct 18, 2017 1:34 PM MT

The culture at the Royal Alexandra Hospital, where the city’s most vulnerable people are treated as nuisances, must change if deaths like that of a homeless woman who died tied to a wheelchair in an ambulance bay while drunk on hand sanitizer are to be prevented, says an Edmonton judge.

“They are banned, issued tickets for trespassing and public intoxication and escorted off the premises to go home, even if they are homeless,” provincial court Judge Janet Dixon wrote in a fatality report released Wednesday.

“Vulnerable individuals suffering from addictions and other mental health issues should be assumed to have a health purpose in coming to the RAH and not be treated as nuisances and trespassers.”

On Dec. 28, 2009, Sharon Lewis was tied to a wheelchair by hospital security staff because she could not sit or stand after drinking Microsan, a hospital hand cleaner containing 70 per cent alcohol.

Lewis, 35, was homeless, a chronic alcoholic and a frequent visitor to the hospital. She was placed in the ambulance bay until she could sober up, when security intended to charge her with trespassing and remove her from the hospital.

When Lewis was later found unresponsive, she was taken into emergency where she died a few minutes later, the report said.

Eight recommendations

Following the fatality inquiry held last summer, Dixon’s report issued eight recommendations to prevent similar deaths.

The recommendations involve changes to policy and standards in dealing with intoxicated people, better tracking of hand sanitizer misuse, improve education around addictions, and reviewing a patchwork of discharge procedures.

But even if all the recommendations were put in place, Dixon warned they may not be enough to prevent similar deaths.

“Underlying all of the evidence heard in this inquiry was a fragmentation of policies and procedures designed to meet various issues that have arisen over time, without considering the collateral impact on the individual involved,” she wrote.

Much of the evidence at the inquiry described the challenges faced by staff at the inner-city hospital who deal with the demands of those coming to emergency while intoxicated, to panhandle, or for food, warmth or to consume hand sanitizer, she said.

“The culture of the RAH in 2009 and at the time of this inquiry is generally to regard these individuals as nuisances,” she wrote.

“There appears to be little recognition that the deliberate design of the security operations of the RAH builds an invisible wall around the emergency department.”

That wall must come down, Dixon said.

“It is critical to ensuring the success of any programs being offered from or through the RAH.”

AHS responds to criticism

Alberta Health Services said its hospital staff prevented Lewis from leaving on that cold winter day.

“They did this out of compassion for Ms. Lewis,” AHS said in a news release Wednesday. “They were concerned she would have nowhere safe and warm to go to sober up, and decided that keeping her in the ambulance bay was the safest option.”

There are now many more options for hospital staff trying to provide care and support to patients like Lewis, AHS said.

This February, the hospital renovated space in the emergency department, adding four designated detox beds and 10 stretcher spaces administered by a team of addiction and mental health specialists aided by consulting psychiatrists.

An additional six complex medical detox beds will open in November 2017, AHS said.

The hospital also implemented a program to address root social causes for patients struggling with mental health issues, drug use, poverty and homelessness, AHS said.


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Click to download info sheet: Info-Sheet-Health-Promotion-and-Gender-Equity

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Introduction to Women’s Health Indicators

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Having a comprehensive picture of the health of a population is critical to guiding health research, policy and programs. Such a picture is created by collecting data on a range of health measures – health indicators – that can be pooled together and analyzed to describe, compare and monitor patterns of mortality (deaths), morbidity (illness, disease), wellness, and health-affecting factors (personal behaviours, resources such as housing and systemic influences such as the availability of care). To understand women’s health, this information must be available and should be analyzed by sex and by gender. Sex- and gender-based analysis (SGBA) is recognized internationally and by the Canadian government as a critical component of sound health planning. According to Government of Canada policy, SGBA is used “to ensure that the initiatives and activities of the Health Portfolio lead to sound science, ensure gender equality and are effective and efficient”.

To understand women’s health, this information must be available and should be analyzed by sex and by gender. Sex- and gender-based analysis (SGBA) is recognized internationally and by the Canadian government as a critical component of sound health planning. According to Government of Canada policy, SGBA is used “to ensure that the initiatives and activities of the Health Portfolio lead to sound science, ensure gender equality and are effective and efficient”.

Canadian Women’s Health Indicators: An Introduction, Environmental Scan, and Framework Examination has been developed to introduce the concepts and context of work done in the area of women’s health indicators in Canada. This introduction includes an overview of what is meant by women’s health indicators and the rationale behind their use. This material is followed by a brief introduction to indicator frameworks, which are explained more fully in the following pages.

Click to download document: Womenshealthindicators_review_final

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