Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of October 30, 2000
CSS strives to help at-risk moms
Fetal alcohol syndrome program requires campaign's funding
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Catholic Social Services (CSS) launched its 17th annual Sign of Hope fundraising campaign Oct. 24 asking the public's assistance in the battle against fetal alcohol syndrome.
This year the agency is out to raise $1.4 million, a portion of which will help fund First Steps, a three-year pilot project aimed at assisting mothers at risk of delivering a child with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).
The campaign was kicked off at an early morning breakfast and press conference at St. Andrew's Centre.
FAS is an irreversible brain disease caused by the excessive consumption of alcohol during pregnancy.
The disorder impairs children's intellectual, emotional and social skills, leaving them unable to form the necessary judgment required to understand the consequences of their behaviour.
Children born with the disorder are highly likely, later in life, to have mental problems, end up in trouble with the law and/or unable to live independently.
"(They) end up not being able to be competitively employed, have problems with education, and eventually become parents who can't take care of their children," noted Mary (Vandenbrink) Berube, manager of First Steps, and an adoptive parent of two children with FAS.
According to Berube, who also leads the province's FAS project, "more than one in every 100 births involve fetal alcohol syndrome" and more than 30 per cent of the 12,000 children in provincial care have FAS.
"Experts in the field of justice estimate that more than 35 per cent of the youth and adults involved in the correction's system have this neurological disability," she said.
Conservative estimates suggest that more than $1.6 million in direct service costs--health care, special education, child and family services, income support programs, the justice system -- are spent on each child born with FAS.
Launched by CSS 11 months ago, First Steps provides one-to-one educational, social, emotional and outreach support to women who have abused alcohol during previous pregnancies or have had a child with fetal alcohol effects, noted CSS president Al Pierog.
"First Steps strives to transform the lives of women at risk so that they can lead meaningful, healthy, and productive lifestyles, while abstaining from excessive alcohol consumption."
In the last year the program has provided service to 35 women with the majority of them remaining alcohol free during treatment. Three program mentors provide these women with counselling and assistance with budgeting, life skills, nutrition, housing and legal issues.
"I believe the three-year commitment we have made to these women will make a difference (in their lives)," Berube said.
While it costs nearly $250 a day to care for a child affected with FAS, it costs only $14-a-day to assist women through First Steps to adopt a healthy lifestyle so they can conceive children without FAS, Pierog noted.
"This is an excellent short- and long-term investment in the women and in the well being of the community," said Jerry Manegre, the 2000 Sign of Hope campaign chairperson.
"However, the program currently receives no government funding and is entirely dependent upon the generosity of the community for its continued existence."
The prime funder for First Steps is the McDaniel Family Foundation, with other funds provided by the Sign of Hope campaign and a few anonymous donors. It costs about $250,000 a year to run the program.
"We hope that people will respond generously to the campaign this year so that Catholic Social Services will have more resources to deal with the increasing waiting list in First Steps," Manegre said.
All 119 programs operated by CSS receive support from the campaign.
However, programs like First Steps, family/individual counselling, Kairos for persons with AIDS/HIV, and Safe House for street youth involved in prostitution are heavily dependent on the campaign.
This year Catholic Social Services will serve more than 60,000 people in 16 municipalities across central and northeast Alberta. The Sign of Hope campaign runs until Dec. 16, although donations will be accepted until Dec. 31, Menegre said.