A campaign to educate people about Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is about to kick off in Fort St. James. Entitled “I’m Worth the Wait: Nine Months No Alcohol”, the initiative is being spearheaded by Joan MacGillivray, the Community Action Program for Children FASD worker at the Nechako Valley Community Services Society.
Sept. 9 is FASD Prevention and Support Day, and MacGillivray had two breakfasts planned: one at the high school and one at the Key on Stuart Drive beside the Credit Union. “At the high school we wanted to show that whatever goes in mom’s mouth affects her baby, while at the Key we wanted to bring the community together.” The 10:00am Key breakfast on the 9th is open to all community members who’d like to attend.
One of the purposes of the current campaign is to educate service providers about how they can support mothers in their plans to not drink during pregnancy. “And men can help their partners by taking a ‘pregnancy pause’ while she’s pregnant,” says MacGillivray, adding that other people can help out by making sure they offer non-alcoholic drinks at parties and gatherings, and by not pressuring people to drink. “We have to be compassionate, and support pregnant women in not drinking, because it’s not an individual problem; it’s one that needs community support.”
She notes that there are many organizations around the Fort that offer support, advice, and assistance to women who are pregnant, think they might be pregnant, or are trying to get pregnant, and who need help, either with their drinking or with any other questions they have. The medical clinic, public health units, and mental health and addictions unit have resources, information, and support, while the NVCSS offers a range of support for parents, and for their children aged 0 to + years.
“It’s not just for FASD,” adds MacGillivray, noting that the society has a Stop the Violence counsellor and other resources for parents, guardians, and children. “And we’re very resourceful. If we can’t help, then we will direct you to someone who can.”
However, FASD is a major concern in the province. A conservative estimate is that nine out of every 1,000 babies in Canada are born with FASD, which means at least 41,679 people affected in British Columbia. It’s the leading known preventable form of brain damage and developmental disability in the country, which is one of the reasons that September is FASD Prevention and Support month throughout the province.
MacGillivray says that awareness of FASD has come a long way over the last few decades. “Schools have supports in place for students with FASD, and testing for FASD and other behavioural issues can be done through the College of New Caledonia. All you need is a referral from a doctor if you suspect your child might have FASD. About 70% of the pregnancies of women between the ages of 20 and 30 are unplanned,” she continues. “If the mother was a social drinker then the baby might be fine, but if she was addicted there’s more risk for the child.”
This is one of the reasons that MacGillivray is trying to get funding to have two “Think Before You Drink” machines installed in washrooms in the Fort. For $2 a woman can obtain a pregnancy testing kit in privacy and get accurate results almost immediately. The machines will also provide information about who to call locally if the woman has questions or concerns.
MacGillivray says that the NVCSS is looking to see if there is enough local interest from mothers and fathers to form a parents’ support group. “It would be open to all for whatever the community needs,” she says. “It’s a way to share resources.” Anyone interested in being part of a parents’ support group, or finding out what others services the NVCSS offers, can call them at (250) 996-7645.