According to the Vancouver Island Health Authority, Victoria General Hospital sees over 200 infants born each year who have suffered from exposure to harmful substances prenatally. While there has been a patchwork of projects put forth by organizations such as the YWCA and Boys and Girls Club in the past, no singularly focused organization has existed in Victoria to address the issue until now. Friday, Feb. 8, saw the grand opening of the Victoria-based HerWay Home, a drop-in program for pregnant women and new mothers facing substance use challenges.
HerWay Home seeks a harm-reduction approach by mitigating the risks through prevention. Operational since Jan. 7, the program is the product of seven years of collaboration between 85 people from 30 community and health organizations, two government ministries and one women’s advocacy group. Working out of the James Bay Community Project, HerWay Home will offer a variety of services including provision of food vouchers, health-care (during and post-pregnancy), referral services, alcohol, drug and mental health support, sexual health information and more.
HerWay Home will not be the first program of its kind in British Columbia, but it is the first Victoria-specific program. Modelled after successful programs such as SheWay in Vancouver and the Maxxine Wright Community Health Centre in Surrey, HerWay Home is founded on the principles of woman- and child-centred care. With an obvious need for this kind of support program, questions arise about why it took so long to implement and what sort of support it receives.
David Gerry, co-chair of the HerWay Home Advisory Committee, said that even though funds were already secured some time ago — a generous $3.3 million over the first five years donated by the Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island — the HerWay Home team still wasn’t quite ready to launch the program.
“There was quite a turnover of people,” says Gerry. “We approached many for funding and were turned down and had to start again, and when we got funding, for example, should it go to an agency in the community or should it be VIHA … it’s just a long process, you know, consensus building.”
While the Ministry of Children and Family Development is currently involved providing services and support, the sole financial contributor is currently the Children’s Health Foundation of Vancouver Island.
“There is a cost that is not included in current budgets,” said Dr. Richard Crowe, executive medical director of Mental Health Addiction, Public Health and Child, Youth Family Services at Vancouver Island Health Authority (VIHA), in respect to the effects of maternal substance use and abuse.
In the future, the HerWay Home team hopes to secure funding from government ministries. Through the demonstration of the positive effects of the program, the team hopes to expand the project into a safe and secure housing program including a drop-in clinic.
In the meantime, HerWay Home will be open to all women and children with a need who can reach the centre. Additionally, some special arrangements may be available for staff to meet women living elsewhere on the peninsula so as to maintain the goal of accessibility for all women.
According to program coordinator Amanda Seymour, HerWay Home is still organizing staff and regular volunteers, but will soon be looking for practicum students, volunteers and child-minders.
Having already seen eleven women and three children in the first few weeks of operation, all signs show that HerWay Home is a step in the right direction in addressing the issue of maternal substance use. With continued community and government support, the success just might last.