A new program in Saskatchewan called Sanctum 1.5 is a high risk pregnancy and HIV care home in Saskatoon that helps struggling mothers with substance abuse problems, and prevents their children from entering the foster system.
The program was started by Sanctum, a not-for-profit organization that collaborated with the province’s ministry of Health and Child Welfare.
“I think that’s where sanctum 1.5 came from, the understanding that with the right supports and services in place we can prevent these babies from being apprehended at birth,” says Kateyln Roberts, executive director of Sanctum.
“Really these moms weren’t given an opportunity because the lacked really some of the most basic things that we need as human beings need like a roof over your head a safe space to come home to.”
Sanctum helps mothers on their journey towards sobriety while also allowing them to keep their babies.
There are about 5,000 children in the province in foster care – 80 per cent of them are First Nation, Metis or Inuit.
Sanctum 1.5 has been operating a 10-bed unit for about three months.
It works with the mothers at any stage in their pregnancy – while the ministry works with mothers once the baby is born.
“I’ll give an example of one our moms who I met at detox,” says Roberts. “She was eight months pregnant and have been told that she would never parent this baby, due to her history, and due to their concerns with substance abuse. So when I told her there was an opportunity to come to a place where she could parent her baby it was I think very emotional for her, because she had gone through her whole pregnancy with no hope right, and so she walked through these doors and she’s been sober ever since.
“If we weren’t here she would of gone into labour, and the baby would of been apprehended.”
Sanctum will house mothers for about three months while they work towards a transition back into their communities.
Kathy Malbeuf, program director at Sanctum, says separating mothers and infants at birth can cause many health issues.
“I’ve seen attachment disorder in moms who are trying to parent,” she says. “And the attachment disorder prevents them from that it prevents them from any healthy meaningful relationship with not only babies but people in general.”
Some doctors say attachment disorder can cause life long health concerns.
“When a baby is born it’s a critical period for this baby and parents, especially the mother, to form a bond,” says pediatrician Dr. Mahli Brindamour. “And if they are separated there’s a possibility if that separation lasts for too long that this bond will never be formed. and so this is linked to mental health problems, for both mom and baby.”
Sanctum 1.5 is expected to have their first mother and child transition in the community next month.
“It’s both rewarding and also sad, because in four months we’ve seen such incredible gains in all of these moms,” says Roberts.
“So much so that we know that right now all of them are transitioning into the community, so that’s super rewarding but it’s also heartbreaking to know that we only have 10 beds. and that this isn’t available to every mom.”