Two Centres of Excellence on Women's Health to Study Substance Use and Mothering

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"Substance use during pregnancy is a key health concern for First Nations women," says Caroline Tait, lead researcher on a new project to be conducted under the banner of the Centre d'Excellence pour la santé des femmes -- Consortium Université de Montréal (CESAF). CESAF is one of five Centres of Excellence for Women's Health set up by Health Canada in 1996 to produce gender-sensitive health research.

The project has several goals, says Ms. Tait. "We're going to look at how Aboriginal women and their communities understand and conceptualize the unborn child and its relationship to the pregnant woman, as well as explore the experiences and concerns of Aboriginal women around substance use issues, including during pregnancy." The study will also analyze current prevention and treatment models aimed at pregnant women with addiction problems, all with a view to broadening the factors that need to be considered in policy making around substance use during pregnancy.

Ms. Tait is with Aboriginal Women of Montreal, a group that seeks to improve the mental and physical well-being of First Nations women living in urban centres. The group has a second project with CESAF -- a conference on Urban Native Women's Wellness to be held in early November. The conference, says Ms. Tait, will create community networks to help Aboriginal women deal with health concerns and look for ways to build bridges between traditional (holistic) approaches to health and western biomedical models.

British Columbia Centre of Excellence for Women's Health

Another project on mothering and substance use is being supported by the B.C. Centre of Excellence for Women's Health. "Women with substance misuse problems who are mothers need accessible, efficacious and welcoming services to address their needs," says Gail Malmo, the Director of the Aurora Treatment Centre in Vancouver, and part of a team of service providers and researchers involved in the project.

The main goal of this study is to identify the barriers and supports pregnant women and mothers experience in accessing addictions treatment in a southern urban centre and in a northern community in B.C. It also aims to identify practices and policies that have a positive impact on women's ability to mother effectively while addressing their substance use.

The B.C. Centre of Excellence has already been involved in a policy project designed to heighten public awareness of alternatives to coercive measures for women using alcohol and other drugs during pregnancy. A media strategy at the time of the recent "G" case placed the spotlight on promising programs for pregnant substance users, while pointing to the overall dearth of these programs and the multiple challenges that exist for women in accessing existing services.

For more information on the CESAF projects, contact: Caroline Tait at (514) 495-2284. E-mail:

For more information on the B.C. projects, contact Nancy Poole at (604) 875-2017. E-mail:

An excellent list of resources related to women and addictions can be found on the Web site of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse -

Further Reading

On Women's Use of Alcohol and other Drugs

Addiction Research Foundation. The Hidden Majority: A Guidebook on Alcohol and Other Drug Issues for Counsellors who Work with Women. Toronto: Addiction Research Foundation, 1996.

Adrian, M., C. Lundy, and M. Eliany, eds. Women's Use of Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs in Canada. Toronto: Addiction Research Foundation, 1996.

Amethyst Women's Addiction Centre. Here's to You, Sister. Creating a Women's Addiction Service: Amethyst's Story. Ottawa: Amethyst Women's Addiction Centre, 1995.

On FAS and Alcohol and Drug-Related Developmental Disabilities

McKenzie, Diane. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Canadian Profile 1996. Ottawa: Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, 1997.

On Mandatory Treatment

Flagler, E., F. Baylis, and S. Rodgers. Ethical dilemmas that arise in the care of pregnant women: Rethinking 'matemal-fetal' conflicts. Canadian Medical Association Journal 156(12): 1729-1732, 1997.

Harrison, Michelle. Drug addiction in pregnancy: The interface of science, emotion and social policy. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment 8, 1991.

The Lindesmith Center. Punishing Women for their Behaviour During Pregnancy: An Approach That Undermines Women's Health and Children's Interests. New York: Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, 1996.

Young, Iris Marion. Punishment, treatment, empowerment: Three approaches to policy for pregnant addicts. Feminist Studies 20(1): 33-57, 1994.

On Aboriginal Perpectives

Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada. It Takes A Community: A Resource Manual for Community-Based Prevention of Fetal Alcohol Syndome and Fetal Alcohol Effects. Ottawa: Aboriginal Nurses Association of Canada, 1997.

On Counselling and Programming that Works

Grant, Therese. The Birth to Three Program: A Plan of Action for Washington State 1996-1997, Prevention and Intervention with High Risk Alcohol and Drug Abusing Mothers and Their Children. Seattle, University of Washington School of Medicine, 1996.

Many thanks to Nancy Poole for help in assembling this reading list.