That House That Built Us: Addressing Addiction & Poverty Through Family Togetherness
It’s all about the children.
ReconciliACTION has covered a lot of overarching themes in the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions’ ‘Calls to Action’ this year, but what it all comes back to is the children. And it makes sense in a way, doesn’t it?
Children are the hope. The future. The ones who benefit from our learned mistakes. The cycle breakers. The reason.
They are also intimately tied to many of the TRC's calls, including health, justice, education, and the obvious, child welfare. Indeed, the first calls to action listed by the TRC are focused on the need to reduce the number of Indigenous children in care. And we know from looking back at our blog posts this year on education, justice, and systemic racism (here, here, here, and here) that reducing the number of children in care requires reducing the number of children at risk of going into care. And to do that requires meaningful systemic change that begins to see child welfare solutions as integrative to all other aspects of society.
It takes a holistic approach that recognizes and acknowledges the “underlying and contributing social, structural, and cultural factors” of colonial history in Canada to reduce "the ongoing and vastly disproportionate apprehension of Indigenous children in the province.”
And some exceptional programs are doing just that…
In High Prairie at Pihesiw Lodge, parents are provided with "an empowering culturally-based addictions treatment experience" where "children reside with their parents for the entire duration of the program in a group living facility." A chance to overcome addiction with their family at their side.
Another centre in Alberta offers both a sober living complex that supports mothers through a post-treatment sober living program with their children and a Family Healing Centre, which "acts as an apprehension diversion treatment program for mothers with their infant children.” These programs address both ongoing and initial care to keep families together. And not just together, but together in safety. As of December 2021, the program had a capacity of five families in the sober living complex and seven mothers with their children in the Healing Center.
The program Sanctum 1.5 in Saskatchewan is another centre doing work in combating addiction in their community through family togetherness. In its Executive Report last year they shared that their housing “is not simply a space for women to go when they are pregnant or to stay with their newborn, it is a home, albeit a home with a particularly large network of people that keep it going – but a home nonetheless.”
With “few events […] more traumatic for children than being removed from their families and enter[ing] into the foster care system," a home where families can remain together means much more than just a home. Research shows that children removed from their families “are at higher risk for impaired neurodevelopment, psychiatric problems, abuse, poverty, homelessness, incarceration, suicide, and early death.” Doing all that we can to promote family togetherness, and to ensure that separation is the last resort is imperative for children's wellbeing.
And for parents, the ability to overcome addictions without the added trauma of family separation and loss can be the difference. Sanctum 1.5 reported in their year-end report that "all of the women we spoke to had custody of their children at the time we conducted this research." In addition, by the program's first anniversary, 21 babies had been born, 17 of the babies were living with their mothers, and the other four babies had been placed in kinship care rather than in the foster care system.
All of the babies were born healthy.
Proof that the cycle and circle of addictions to child welfare to the justice system to addictions can be disrupted.
It’s not easy. It takes a community response and extensive holistic programming. But the research speaks for itself.
If we want happy, healthy communities with bright futures we must build them. We must raise up programs like Pihesiw Lodge and Sanctum 1.5 which allow young children to remain with their caregivers, and caregivers to remain as caregivers as they fight internal battles. But we must also remember the children who grew up and the parents who weren’t given these opportunities, and find ways to heal those relationships, sometimes in the midst of ongoing barriers.
Because if we want happy, healthy communities, and happy, healthy children - togetherness, as the research shows, just may be the right place to start.
Until next time,
 Sanctum 1.5, “”A Safe Place to Have My Baby: A Narrative Evaluation of Sanctum 1.5 in its First Year” (22 May 2022), online: Issuu.com <https://issuu.com/alana.cattapan/docs/sanctum_1.5_final_report__may_2020_>, 11.
 “Family Addictions Program” (2022), online: Pihesiw Lodge <https://www.pihesiw.ca/>.
 “Residents in Recovery” (2022), online: Resident in Recovery <https://www.residentinrecovery.com/>.
 Sanctum 1.5, supra note 2, 14.
 Corporation for Supportive Housing, “Keeping Families Together” (2022), online: CSH <https://www.csh.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/Tool_KeepingFamiliesTogetherBrochure.pdf>, 3.
 Sanctum 1.5, supra note 2, 3.