Sioux Lookout hosts FASD Conference
Jesse Bonello - Staff Writer
September is Fetal Alcohol Awareness Month world-wide, and Sioux Lookout took part by hosting a two-day conference on Sept. 9 and 10 at Calvary Baptist Church.
The conference, titled Walking In Our Shoes – Living with FASD, welcomed 140 participants from across northwestern Ontario, including Dryden, Kenora, Ear Falls, Thunder Bay, and Red Lake.
Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Ontario Network of Expertise describes Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) as, “An umbrella diagnostic term describing the range of effects that can occur in an individual who was prenatally exposed to alcohol. These effects may include physical, cognitive, memory, behavioural and learning difficulties with lifelong implications.”
The conference provided “hope and strategies for caregivers, agencies, and people who live with FASD”.
“I think it’s been great. People have learned things that they didn’t know, techniques they didn’t know, or they were reminded of techniques they knew and are practicing,” said Yvette Jones, Healthy Generations Facilitator with Community Living Dryden-Sioux Lookout.
Those in attendance had the chance to hear from various guest speakers including Jeff Noble, Founder and CEO of Noble Initiatives, which provides hope and education to people caring for someone living with FASD, and R.J. Formanek, creator of the Red Shoes Rock movement.
“The conference is going great. We’re hearing a lot of great feedback from caregivers as well,” said Chrysta Wood, FASD Worker with Firefly.
“We’re really happy to be here and connect with other caregivers as well,” said Treena Wallace, FASD Clinic Coordinator – Far North with Firefly.
“It’s a great first step to have more (conferences). It’s been great to hear from Jeff Noble, who has a lot of experience with FASD… There’s not often conferences that focus on how the families are doing, their struggles, and their successes, so it’s been really inspiring to be here,” Wallace added.
Noble shared that he enjoyed his time at the conference, which he felt was well attended.
“It’s my first time up here in Sioux Lookout, so it’s pretty cool that they brought me up here. They were hoping that it would be well attended and I think it has been. It’s important to have these conferences because Fetal Alcohol is not taught in school. For most of these front-line workers, they’ve never received education on it so, for years and years, they’re dealing with a population that they don’t understand. A lot of them are trying to make it by using instincts and flying by the seat of their pants so, in order to do well, we need to know what we’re dealing with in order to deal with it. They brought me up to do just that,” said Noble.
“I speak specifically about research in what the number one success factor is for individuals with Fetal Alcohol, and that’s a stable home… We just want kids and adults on the spectrum to have a useful future where they are contributing to society,” he added.
Sherry Baum, Executive Director for Community Living Dryden-Sioux Lookout, explained the conference manifested from an idea to host speakers in Sioux Lookout, which they’ve done in the past. Thanks to community partners, Baum said they were able to make the first-time conference a free event.
“It came together, first of all, as just an idea because a few of us had talked, and it was very organic, and we said that it’s been a while since we’ve had an FASD conference. In fact, I don’t think we’ve actually had an FASD conference. We’ve had speakers in, but it’s been a while since we’ve done that… So I brought it forward with FASD ONE (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Ontario Network of Expertise), which is funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada, and that group provided some seed money for us to bring in Jeff Noble. Then we went to our community partners. Tikinagan threw in some dollars, the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority, Firefly, Community Living Dryden – Sioux Lookout, and Sioux Hudson Literacy. Together, with all these community partners, we were able to bring in these speakers, pay for the costs, and make it free for everybody,” she said.
Baum shared that, following the conference, they’re looking to discuss how they can expand their reach for FASD resources and knowledge.
“We’ll reconvene afterwards and talk about what can we follow this up with, and I think we want to widen the circle. We also have a regional FASD network that meets usually yearly in-person but also meets by phone and by video conference, and there’s also a regional caregiver support group that meets through video conference as well. There are regional things and local things for each community,” said Baum.
Healthy Generations hosts monthly FASD support meetings on the third Saturday of each month in Sioux Lookout from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at 41 King Street.
Along with the conference, Healthy Generations staff was on the lookout for people wearing red shoes from Sept 1 to 15. Those wearing red shoes, which symbolize the support of no drinking during pregnancy through the Red Shoes Rock movement, had the opportunity to win a gift certificate from a local business in Sioux Lookout.