Every year on Vancouver Island there are about 6,000 babies born. It is estimated that 1% of those (or 60 babies) have been exposed to harmful substances (i.e., alcohol) prior to birth. With the opening of HerWay Home, an important step was taken on Friday to reduce this little known or appreciated statistic.
It took seven years, thirty community agencies and thousands of volunteer hours to bring HerWay Home into existence. It also took the support of the visionary Board and a generous grant of $3.3 million dollars from The Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island (formerly Queen Alexandra Foundation).
HerWay Home is a “one-stop-shop” with a full range of the right support services for women who are pregnant or early parenting and who are often coping with overwhelming challenges like physical/emotional/sexual abuse, poverty etc that limit their access to health and social services.
In 2007, as Executive Director of the FASD Community Circle, we won a grant to establish an Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) diagnostic and assessment clinic for women on Vancouver Island. Our multidisciplinary team saw twenty women over the course of the grant. Twelve of the twenty women, were mothers. Collectively those twelve mothers had twenty eight children, of whom twenty six (93%) were in care!
Gloria (fictional name) was in her early twenties, pregnant with her fifth child when seen by our clinic team. She had her first child at fourteen and had a serious health condition which made being pregnant potentially life threatening for her. All of her previous children had been apprehended, and despite all the risks, she was determined to have another child. Her strategy to avoid apprehension of her fifth child was to “go to ground” or try and hide under the radar in a rural area.
We recognized that no amount of risk could deter someone like Gloria from having another child. Seeking different outcomes was why so many people persevered over seven years doing the research, writing grants and developing the right services in a program that we now call HerWay Home.
As a result of receiving a diagnosis of FASD, Gloria learned that something happened to her before she was born, over which she had no control. For her it was a huge relief to find out there was a medical explanation for why she had struggled all her life. And getting a diagnosis also qualified her to receive the PWD pension, which changed the cycles of eviction and homelessness. Having the same postal code meant she could also qualify for supportive social services.
Understanding that she had a brain based condition made it possible for Gloria to start to ask for help completing complex forms and help with budgeting etc. As she gained confidence to advocate for herself, she began to take control of areas of her life that had previously eluded her.
The grant that allowed our team to diagnose Gloria and nineteen other women expired in 2010. Like several other provinces, in 2008 BC released a ten year FASD Action Plan. Objective 4 of The Plan is, “Children, youth and adults living with FASD have access to timely diagnosis and assessment.”
Like any other medical condition, with FASD, the earlier the diagnosis the better the prognosis. For many of the women we will see in HerWay Home, it will be a case of Missed Diagnosis and/or misdiagnosis of their FASD.
Phase 2 of HerWay Home is a purpose built structure that will house the clinic services on the bottom floor and several two bedroom apartments on the second floor. The intent is to use a stay in these apartments as a step along the road to various forms of existing supportive housing in the community.
Adding the services of a multidisciplinary FASD team to the existing services of HerWay Home will give the women access to a whole range of much needed services, absent a diagnosis they do not qualify. And it will give them confidence to advocate for themselves and their families, so that they can better shape the life they want to live.
To contact the program:
- Call (250) 388-5550 or
- E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or
- Visit www.viha.ca/children/pregnancy/herwayhome.htm
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