New Victoria program helps new moms with addictions

A new one-stop program for pregnant or new moms with substance-abuse issues officially opens in Victoria today.

The HerWay Home program hopes to reduce the number of children who suffer the effects of their mother’s substance use during pregnancy.

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Located in the James Bay Community Project on Michigan Street, the program is aimed at women who cannot navigate the system to get what they need or feel too judged to partake. There is also a fear that their children will be taken from them by the government.

More than 200 babies are born at Victoria General Hospital each year after being exposed to harmful substances during their mothers’ pregnancies, usually due to addictions.

Many of the infants have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder — which carries an estimated lifetime treatment cost of $1.5 million — and other special needs, according to the Vancouver Island Health Authority.

Spearheaded by VIHA in partnership with the Ministry of Children and Family Development, key partners in the program include the James Bay Community Project and members of the HerWay Home advisory committee — a group of experts, advocates and educators from the community.

The program is being funded by the Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island, which has pledged $3.3 million over five years.

“Children’s Health Foundation is fully committed to this program and sees it as part of our mission to provide children with every possible opportunity to thrive on Vancouver Island,” said spokeswoman Jessica Woollard on Thursday.

The foundation is fully funding the program for three years, then providing a reduced amount in the next two years, said CEO Ron Hewitt.

The health authority will then take over the funding.

The program has four staff members: a full-time co-ordinator; an engagement worker who makes initial contact with women; and two facilitators who co-ordinate services such as:

• Meals during drop-in hours

• Grocery store food vouchers

• Health care during and after pregnancy

• Breastfeeding and child feeding support

• Help finding health care, housing and income assistance

• Alcohol, drug and mental-health support

• An opportunity to socialize with other women and kids

• Parenting support

• Dental hygiene

• Sexual-health information

The program, which does not require a referral, expects about 70 women in the first year, and 100 to 150 in the second year.

“The board felt that this was such an urgent need and decided that our foundation should pledge the amount necessary to get the program started and see it through to a point where VIHA would take over ongoing costs — essentially five years,” Woollard said in an email.

The progam is based on similar successful pregnancy outreach programs in Toronto and Vancouver.

Drop-in hours are Tuesday and Friday from noon to 3 p.m. and Thursday 3 to 6 p.m.

To contact the program, call 250-388-5550 or email herwayhome@viha.ca.

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