Submitted by: Maria Soonias Ali, Youth Action for Prevention Provincial Coordinator, Saskatchewan Prevention Institute
The Saskatchewan Prevention Institute is a non-profit organization, founded in 1980. Our focus is to reduce the occurrence of disabling conditions in children using primary prevention methods. We are committed to working collaboratively to share evidence-based information, provide education and training, and build capacity across the province. The Prevention Institute has worked in the area of FASD prevention since 1980. The Youth Action for Prevention (YAP) Program runs under the umbrella of the Prevention Institute’s FASD Prevention Program. The program consists of a Provincial YAP Coordinator (Maria Soonias Ali) and a Northern YAP Coordinator (Donna Banach, based out of La Ronge). This allows us to better serve all areas of the province. Our main focus is to reduce the occurrence of FASD; however, it is done indirectly when working with youth through substance use awareness, and a harm reduction approach to learning. At the moment, our program is focused on professional development trainings (i.e., Adult Ally Training) for service providers who work with youth (teachers, social workers, trusted community members, etc.), and on the development of new social media resources. We do work directly with youth as well; however, as a provincial program with two staff members our reach is most effective when training and supporting adult allies. Along with substance use, we also discuss other areas of concern with youth such as injury prevention, sexual health, mental health, trauma, pressures youth face, and healthy relationships. These are all areas that intersect with substance use and the health concerns of young people.
Our Adult Ally Trainings are based on toolkits we have created at the Prevention Institute in partnership with Morris Green who works with youth in Nova Scotia. These toolkits are designed to address the above mentioned realities of young people’s lives in a way that promotes discussion, information sharing, equity, and no judgement between the facilitator(s) and the youth or between youth. We find that the response of young people listening to their peers and sharing their own experiences and knowledge about real life situations has a great impact on their interest towards a given topic and openness to engage in conversations. Although facilitators are provided evidence-based information on the topics, youth are encouraged to come to their own conclusions rather than having a facilitator tell them what to do and how to feel. The goal is to engage in meaningful discussions with youth that will have the greatest impact, and to do this we promote transparency and authenticity from the service providers being trained. It takes a different approach to learning than in a traditional classroom and has been well received by service providers and youth alike. We have seen first-hand some very insightful and meaningful moments from young people across Saskatchewan. At the moment, we have two completed toolkits, From “At-Risk” to Resilient (gender neutral), and The Way Forward (male-identifying youth), and we are actively creating a third toolkit aimed at female-identifying youth.
We are also working on creating social media resources for youth. These aim to be youth-friendly, safe spaces with a focus on youth and youth health. Our goal is to share information about youth-related health concerns, but also to promote the positive things youth in Saskatchewan are doing and sober activities taking place around the province. Something we hope to use this platform for is to promote our Youth-Led Health Community Grant. By directly connecting with youth, we hope to support them to take an idea they have related to substance use and/or sexual health awareness and develop an event or an ongoing project that community members can participate in and learn from. This grant is made possible through collaboration between the YAP Program and the Prevention Institute’s Sexual and Reproductive Health Program.
Our FASD Prevention Program is run by Marlene Dray and Bev Drew. This program focuses on the prevention of FASD through education on topics such as: preconception health, prenatal development, substance use in pregnancy, stigma reduction, and low-risk alcohol drinking guidelines. The program has also created a public awareness campaign on the important role of fathers in supporting alcohol-free pregnancies.
Presentations and workshops are available upon request and the program serves the whole province. Program staff members have created a number of resources regarding substance use and pregnancy, and strive to take a culturally diverse approach when creating resources for Saskatchewan’s diverse population. The program also promotes plain language in its knowledge translation activities. With the legalization of cannabis, Marlene collaborated with other programs within the Institute to create a cannabis information booklet with information on cannabis and pregnancy, breastfeeding, parenting, child safety, and young people. This booklet has proven to be particularly popular with adults, service providers, and youth.
The FASD Prevention Program has also hosted several webinars and worked with Myles Himmelreich to create videos about FASD to provide information in diverse ways. This year the program will also be collaborating with the Institute’s Parenting Programs to explore strategies for parents and supports for children (0 to 6) with FASD, with the overarching goal of prevention of secondary impacts. The FASD Prevention Program also participates in and chairs provincial FASD awareness and prevention committees and funds an annual FASD Prevention Grant to support communities in their efforts to raise awareness and prevent FASD.
Part of FASD prevention is supporting service providers to have non-judgemental conversations about behaviour change. Motivational Interviewing is an effective, non-judgemental way to talk with girls and women about their alcohol use before they are pregnant and during pregnancy. Bev Drew leads this work. She is a member of the international Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers (MINT). Bev also nurtures other service providers who are skilled in Motivational Interviewing to become trainers for their organizations and communities. The intention is to build capacity in communities and meet the high demand for this training.
The FASD Prevention Program and YAP Program continue to evolve to ensure that messaging, resources, and training are meeting current best evidence and the changing conversation on FASD in Canada. The FASD Prevention Program and YAP Program are committed to the Prevention Institute’s goal of healthy children. We believe that children of all abilities have the right to the best physical, social, and emotional health possible and we are passionate in working towards this goal.