The special partnership between BC Women's and Together We Can helps new parents who use substances. In part three of our series on Powerful Parents, read how BC Women’s is helping to keep families together by providing parallel supports to both parents.
Frank has just one day off a week. His big plans for that day? Each week, he visits with his 13-month-old son, Chase.
“He’s walking now. Actually, he’s running,” laughs Frank. “He’ll pull himself up on a chair and look at you. He'll look around for where he wants to go and once he sees it, he's just gone.”
Chase is in Ministry of Child and Family Development care, but Frank is able to visit often. He credits the combined programs of Together We Can (TWC) and Families in Recovery (FIR) at BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre for the connection he has with his son.
“Without the FIR program and their partnership with Together We Can, I wouldn’t be where I am today and I wouldn’t be part of Chase’s life,” he says.
The FIR program supports new mothers who use substances and their newborns, keeping parents and babies together as much as possible.
“Women come to us, often actively using substances, but are working at decreasing or fully stopping,” says BC Women’s Mental Health and Substance Use Senior Director Darci Skiber. “It’s difficult to do that when your partner is still actively using substances. TWC provides supports for partners to go through the treatment and recovery process with similar timing to our patients.”
TWC provides addiction treatment, family education and support programs for people to help rebuild family relationships.
“We go on Monday afternoons and we do a support group at FIR,” says TWC Community Relations Manager Steven Hall. “What we're trying to do there is build rapport with male partners of women on FIR and talk to them about recovery and treatment.”
When a partner of a patient in FIR, like Frank, wants treatment, they’re brought to TWC within about two days and participate in a residential substance use treatment program for between 60 and 90 days. This TWC treatment is funded by the Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA). BC Women’s and FIR are also part of PHSA.
FIR’s Combined Care Unit has 13 beds. There is a nursery for babies who need specialized treatment. The approach of mother and baby togetherness increases the percentage of mothers able to safely retain custody of their babies after birth by improving parenting skills, including information on providing safe home environments.
The TWC program has a medical clinic with three physicians and a nurse. There are four clinical counsellors, 12 drug and alcohol counsellors, a nutritionist and each client has a case manager.
TWC and FIR started working together about two years ago and have helped 28 partners of patients in FIR.
“The counselor at FIR was very helpful, explaining what to do with the baby,” says Frank. “I really didn’t know what to do. I’d had no life experience with babies, to be honest.”
Frank had a tumultuous upbringing, living with different family members and in foster care as he was growing up. His father and two of his siblings have since passed away. The now 23-year-old had been using substances since the age of nine. When his drug and alcohol counsellor found out he was having a baby with his partner, she suggested they go to FIR.
The couple arrived at FIR on February 28 and Chase was born the next day, on March 1. The baby spent two weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit while Frank took part in various parenting classes, baby and parent yoga, and baby-book making.
“When Chase gets older, I can give the book to him and say ‘This was yours when you were born, made by me,’” he says, proudly.
Frank decided to try getting help after attending the TWC meetings at FIR.
“At first I didn’t really want to try TWC, but I just needed a couple of days to process the decision,” says Frank.
He went to group meetings at TWC daily while living there for a year. He’s worked on the TWC maintenance team, tending to the organization’s 28 homes. After trying recovery various times for six years, Frank is now celebrating nine months of not using substances.
“I can do this because of the guys around me and the house that I live in,” he says. “There’s a connection and partnership.”
Frank’s goal is to eventually work up days of custody of Chase and move to Campbell River, where a cousin has offered to help him line up work. He’s also in regular touch with an older brother in Vancouver.
“I wouldn’t be able to do this without help from the people around me,” he says. “My cousin just came up on four years of not using substances. She knows exactly what I'm dealing with and I feel like she'll be a good support for me.”
For more information on referrals or the care FIR or TWC provides, please visit the BC Women's or Together We Can websites.
Read the other Powerful Parents stories running between Mother's Day and Father's Day:
*The FIR/TWC partnership is a legacy project honouring the work of Denise Bradshaw at BC Women’s. Denise passed away in 2021 after working at BC Women’s on the project and leading systems of care for vulnerable patients with substance use issues.