FASD Support During the COVID-19 Pandemic Is About Being Flexible, Creative


A message from Toni Winterhoff (Ey Claney), FNHA Specialist, Healthy Children, on International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Month


Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness Month takes place annually in September and is devoted to educating people about FASD, providing supports and offering advice on prevention.

The FNHA's Maternal Child Health and FASD programs are offered in 76 First Nations communities throughout BC. The FNHA provides the operational funding for these programs to be run independently by First Nations, and we value the personal relationships and mentorships forged through these partnerships.

FASD outreach comes in many forms, from programs offered through Aboriginal Friendship Centres to one-on-one home-based outreach with mothers. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Maternal Child Health and FASD teams were able to build relationships with mothers that often began before the birth of the child and could last up to three years after birth.

It was common practice for a home visit to involve assisting a mother in getting to and from doctor appointments, offering supports over a friendly cup of tea or a walk, and providing mentorship in the home. Having an FASD team member act as an advocate and supporter at physician, public health and dental visits can be a burden off the shoulders of the mother.

There is no question that the pandemic affected the ability to provide some of that in-person outreach but it also highlighted the strengths and flexibility of FASD programs.

By supporting customizable programs that work best for both participants and home visitors, we've been able to create a powerful balance between safe service and client needs. No two FASD programs are identical, however the shared themes of a relationship-based approach and a foundation of mentorship allows us to provide dynamic wrap-around supports.

Setting goals based on client priorities is a key part to developing FASD programs that work. Clients direct their own goals based on their own health and wellness agendas. This personal empowerment and direction is an important alignment with many Indigenous values.

As the world has adjusted to moving online to cope with the pandemic, many FASD programs have flourished in the digital environment. Despite the learning curve and the barriers of lacking in-person contact, many supports came from creative ideas:

  • Providing a calendar with a photo of team members for each month holding up encouraging messages (e.g., We believe in you! You've got this!).
  • Filming individual family wellness and movement challenges that could be posted publicly or sent privately for entry into a gift card draw.
  • Activity baskets with land-based healing tools and instructions, along with helpful health and wellness tips.
  • Physically distanced exercise and games at the doorway to client homes.

Despite the disappointing rise in COVID-19 cases, Maternal Child Health and FASD programs will continue to navigate through to families in need. We recognize that the lack of an in-person touch has made things difficult for everybody.

Some teams are now learning and grieving the loss of a participant's sobriety while still assisting with recovery if that is the participant's choice. Some are losing clients who “drop off the radar" much more easily without that in-person bond.

However we're still learning and we won't give up on our families. Through Community of Practice meetings, teams are learning and adapting rapidly. By sharing resources, tools, virtual training, and pandemic-adapted policies and activities, we are revealing hidden layers of strength and flexibility in FNHA-funded Maternal Child Health and FASD programs.

To learn more about supports available to you or your loved ones, visit the FNHA's Fetal Alcohol Spectr​um Disorder (FASD) Program webpage.

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