Shawna Mahoney has witnessed firsthand the unintended impacts addiction can have on children.
It’s the driving force behind her pursuing a career in social work and after more than 10 years, she will be the new face of the Healthy Care Pregnancy Program in the 100 Mile House/Williams Lake area.
Mahoney, InReach Worker for Healthy Care Pregnancy Program, will be assisting with navigating pregnancy and substance use disorder in a program designed to support and advocate for the parents. The program, recently relaunched by 100 Mile’s House Cariboo Enrichment Centre and the British Columbia Association of Pregnancy Outreach program, is dedicated to people struggling with addiction.
Mahoney, a member of the Cree First Nation, comes from a background in social work for the ministry in Williams Lake for eight years and in Oliver for three years. She also has a background in child mental illness, addiction, and historical trauma cases throughout her social work studies, as well as Indigenous studies.
Parents with substance use disorder can struggle with birth withdrawals, social and emotional regulations, learning difficulties and more, she said.
“It can be very heartbreaking and nobody was there to support those women. Nobody was in their corner to help them positively get through pregnancy.”
Mahoney, along with a team of community professionals at CFEC, will assist individuals in achieving their pregnancy goals, no matter what they are, a news release said. The program is designed to support and advocate for the parents’ needs during and after pregnancy.
Personal motivations for pursuing advocacy work include her career experiences and seeing the impacts of addiction on her adopted children as both their birth mothers had a history with substance use disorder.
Mahoney said she does not want people to be fearful as she is in the advocacy role. It is common to fear family consequences if the ministry or RCMP becomes involved, she said. The goal of the HCPP relaunch is to change community perspective and understand that addiction does not define individuals and it is possible for them to parent successfully with proper opportunities and support.
Mahoney said there is a high need for a program like this in 100 Mile House and Williams Lake as addiction issues are not only in these communities but province-wide. After the role was open for a few months, Mahoney said she is looking forward to building a lot of trust and support within the community.
“To help them advocate for a fair chance at being able to parent their children,” Mahoney said. “Addiction can be overcome and unfortunately when you’re using, you’re labelled and there’s a stigma behind it.”
There are many services that the Cariboo Family Enrichment Centre provides for HCPP, to parents including one on one support and counselling, playroom activities, shared group sessions, treatment recommendations and transportation to appointments.
Mahoney hopes bringing the community together will result in more referrals and transparent conversations. She said she wants to be in individual’s corners giving them tools to be successful.
“I’ll go to bat to the ends of the earth for my clients. I’m really happy to be doing this,” she said. “When I have a family that gets to shine after getting their kids removed and the kids do well and the parents do well that is the best feeling. They did all the work kudos are all on them.”
She emphasized it can be challenging for people who are struggling to reach out to places they don’t feel accepted or walk into a space where they feel alone.
“A person who is unwell with mental health or addiction, that is not a place where they’d want to be seen, in a group of other women who are quote on quote healthy and cannot relate,” Mahoney said.
This program will have groups of individuals who will all be able to connect over pregnancy or post-partum struggles feeling a sense of unity.
Services that Shawna will offer will primarily stem from Cariboo Family Enrichment Centre, including driving her patients to appointments as transportation has been a huge issue for individuals without a vehicle.
Right now, sessions are online meeting people where they are at in their pregnancy journey, allowing them to decide what level of support they want to access.
Mahoney said housing is another huge issue and they can assist by speaking with organizations like BC Housing and helping individuals search or in sending applications.
“Anything that they need in that moment to be successful is what I’m here for,” Mahoney said.