At-risk females are seeing more support through a program via the Central Alberta AIDS Network Society.
The Women’s Program officially launched April 1st and helps street-involved women who are pregnant, who are sexually active or who have recently become mothers. There are currently nine clients within the program.
“There are street-involved women who are pregnant, or who have recently become mothers and their babies have been apprehended and they are working to get their kids back, or there are women who are at risk of becoming pregnant, so we talk to them about birth control options,” said Sarah Fleck, a registered nurse with CAANS. “Between those three, there is a big need in Red Deer for this program.”
The Women’s Program is funded through the province and has a budget of $250,000 annually. Within the program are two part-time registered nurses and one full-time peer outreach worker.
The program is able to help women at various stages including before they even know if they are pregnant or not.
“We can offer pregnancy tests, we can have a conversation about sexually transmitted infections, what your risks are, what you are doing for birth control. We can also have conversations around all of the options surrounding pregnancy,” said Jennifer Vanderschaeghe, executive director at CAANS. “We are a pro-choice organization so we really look at this program as helping women in their journey, no matter what. If someone chooses termination than we are going to help support them through that process. If someone is excited to be pregnant and wants to carry the baby, that is great, we will support them through that.
“We really can walk with them through their journey, whatever it may be. This program is about creating hope and support.”
CAANS also has a Doppler onsite in which they can allow their clients to hear the baby’s heartbeat, which has been a positive experience so far.
“The Doppler for two of our clients so far has made it really real for them and it has helped to start to move them towards change,” said Fleck. “They are in here, they have a confirmed pregnancy, they hear the heartbeat and they realize that they need to make a change moving forward. That has helped us get people into housing and into treatment.”
Vanderschaeghe added one of their roles is to also connect with Central Alberta Child and Family Services early on in the women’s pregnancies.
“Usually Child and Family Services gets involved at the moment of birth, but this program is able to bring them in as a consultant early on to have the conversations about what success looks like and what supports they have to help that woman be ready to go so that they don’t have to be involved from an apprehension perspective,” she said.
In addition, in terms of the program helping street-involved women, Vanderschaeghe said ‘street-involved’ can mean many things.
“A lot of times when people hear that they think homeless and for sure we are supporting people who are living in homeless camps or who are sleeping rough, but it’s also those who are living in shelters and supported living housing programs. It also includes people who buy and sell drugs and who buy and sell sex. We have a variety of women who are in the program who all sort of fit in these categories,” she said.
Tiffany Blood, peer support outreach worker for the Women’s Program, said the feedback from the clients utilizing the program has been positive.
“One of the biggest barriers for our clients was transportation to a doctor’s appointment. That is one of the reasons why they weren’t going. We are able to offer that and support them at their appointments as well.”
Fleck added she has seen positivity as well.
“We have heard from our clients that they don’t know where they would be without the support if we weren’t there,” she said. “It’s a great feeling.”
Meanwhile, donations for the program are accepted. For more information call the CAANS office at 403-346-8858.