Pregnancy Outreach Programs

Maria Burglehaus

Reprinted from "Women's" issue of Visions Journal, 2004, 2 (4), p. 47

For 20 years, Pregnancy Outreach Programs (POPs) have provided a place where women can go for support to have a healthy baby. POPs were created to reach out to women who do not access typical prenatal information and services. There are now over 46 programs in BC. They are located in community centres, health centres and friendship centres. They are well supported by agency partnerships and volunteers and by donations from the community.

POPs are free programs where a woman can access:

  • nutrition and health counselling

  • food hampers, prenatal vitamins and food vouchers

  • peer group support

  • referrals to counselling services, life skills programs, parenting programs and breastfeeding support

  • support to cut down or stop smoking and to reduce exposure to second-hand smoke

  • help to deal with an alcohol or drug issue

  • arts and crafts activities and music therap

  • instruction on caring for and feeding her baby

The programs have been very important in reducing the chance of having a low birth-weight baby. They stress the benefits of support and prenatal services to a healthy pregnancy. POPs recognize that cultural barriers and limited finances affect a woman’s ability to access resources, particularly healthy foods and transportation. They also recognize that mental health issues and/or alcohol and drug issues may be affecting a woman’s life and her ability to get support in her pregnancy. The effects on her infant and on her health are minimized when a woman participates in a POP. Program workers are trained to help a woman build on her strengths. Program staff work in partnership with each woman, supporting her and the decisions she makes, as well as offering information, education and assistance.

While it is often the woman who refers herself to Pregnancy Outreach Programs, a community service or health service provider can make the referral with the woman’s permission.

Spending time together

Trusting relationships are built between POP program workers and the women they serve. Program workers have the opportunity to meet with the women weekly during the prenatal and postnatal periods. Staff are trained and skilled in supporting and connecting with women. Throughout the pregnancy, it is not uncommon for a woman to have concerns or worries. She may have anxiety about the delivery of her baby. She may wonder how well she will be able to bond with her baby. At a POP, the woman is shown great understanding and compassion, and her privacy is respected.

Outreach at home and one-to-one

The worker can do outreach, arranging a one-to-one visit at the woman’s home or a safe place of her choice. A woman will be offered this service for any of the following reasons:

  • She is feeling isolated

  • She has specific health issues

  • She is uncomfortable in a group setting like a drop-in

  • She has specific language or cultural needs

  • She requests one-to-one counselling

Offering to introduce women to services

POPs build partnerships with other community services. Service providers will be invited to POP luncheons so the POP participants have an opportunity to become comfortable with workers from other agencies. Often a POP worker will introduce a woman to a new service by going to a first appointment with her. Service providers say it is often that first connection with a POP worker that helps a woman trust and connect with other services in her community. POPs open doors and help each woman build her own circle of support.

Spreading the word

In 1996, the BC Association of Pregnancy Outreach Programs (BCAPOP) was formed. The 46 programs and several partners make up the association’s membership. The BCAPOP board and committee members are POP coordinators and program workers. BCAPOP helps:

  • Program workers share ideas with each other

  • Communicate best practices

  • Communicate and organize training workshops and provide funding assistance for training

  • Connect with partners such as the BC Ministry of Health Services, Health Canada, First Call BC and the BC Reproductive Care Program

  • Coordinate efforts to address FASD, substance use issues, mental health issues and other challenges that program participants face

The association’s monthly teleconferences are well ‘attended’ by POP coordinators and program workers. These provide an opportunity for the workers to support each other in work that demands much energy and compassion. They share their experiences and get a chance to recharge themselves. Another key opportunity for learning and sharing is our BCAPOP annual conference.

 
About the Author

Maria is the nutritionist at Sheway in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside and Secretary of the BC Association of Pregnancy Outreach Programs

Notes

For program information and location of a POP near you, please visit www.bcapop.ca

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