New program at Klinic helps promote healthy pregnancies

Manitoba fights FASD

Klinic will be the home of a new FASD program to promote healthy choices during pregnancies. Cindy Titus

Thursday, Sept. 9 was Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) awareness day in Manitoba and it did not go unnoticed.

A new government program was announced by Klinic and Nor’West Co-op Community Health Center with the goal of creating awareness, educating and motivating women to have healthy pregnancies without alcohol.

Healthy Child Manitoba describes the disorder as “the invisible disability,” which rarely has physical signs, as most symptoms are mental and behavioural.

According to FASD Manitoba, the disability is caused by physical damage to the brain from alcohol exposure during pregnancy.

Its effects are cumulative. The first symptoms are limited mental capacities such as learning disabilities, slow auditory and cognitive processing and difficulty with memory.

These symptoms cause confusion and frustration which can translate into trouble at school or in the community, problems with the law, and drug and alcohol use.

As stated in Healthy Child Manitoba’s FASD strategy document, one per cent of babies born each year in Canada have FASD.

Approximately 130 of those babies are born in Manitoba. Every year Manitoba invests more than $10.5 million in FASD initiatives.

Healthy Child lists several existing FASD programs including respite day camps for children, mentoring programs and programs focused on youth in the justice system whose behaviour is a result of FASD.

The federal government needs to step up and improve support for reserve communities ... (and) to increase support for our programs that work for our population.

Lucy Muswagon, FASD co-ordinator, Norway House

In recognition of FASD Awareness Day, 20 residents of Manitoba’s Norway House First Nation walked the 810 km to the Manitoba legislature over the span of 10 days, ending on Sept. 9.

The walk was organized by Lucy Muswagon, FASD co-ordinator of Norway House. Muswagon wanted to focus attention on the devastating effect alcohol can have on a developing fetus and highlight the fact that FASD is a preventable disability.

“I wanted to organize a walk for these kids (that are affected by FASD) because there is no support (or) services for them,” said Muswagon.

“The federal government needs to step up and improve support for reserve communities ... (and) to increase support for our programs that work for our population.”

This set the stage for Klinic and Nor’West to announce the new Manitoba initiative in FASD education and prevention called Project CHOICES, scheduled to begin on Sept. 27.

“It’s the first of its kind in Canada,” said Lyndsay Hersikorn a counsellor for Project CHOICES.

Hersikorn explained that the program is aimed at women ages 16 and up who are drinking more than Canada’s lowest guidelines – three or more drinks on one occasion, or nine or more in one week.

The main goal is to help prevent alcohol-exposed pregnancies.

The project provides information and counselling sessions focused on reducing drinking and increasing use of effective birth control.

Hersikorn said the emphasis is on support, motivation and women setting goals for themselves.

“It’s not about stigmas or telling people not to drink,” she said. “It’s about working with people so it fits their life.”

Published in Volume 65, Number 6 of The Uniter (October 7, 2010)

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