Fetal alcohol campaign focuses on abstinence

Nicole Gladue needs a safe place to live. Since April, the 26-year-old, who’s struggling with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, has been living…

Nicole Gladue needs a safe place to live.

Since April, the 26-year-old, who’s struggling with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, has been living in a room at the Roadhouse Inn.

Social Services recommended the aging building as a possible rental option, she said.

It also recommended the Chilkoot Trail Inn.

“Adult social services should be doing more for people in my predicament,” said Gladue.

“I don’t feel safe at the Roadhouse at the best of times,” she said. “It’s easy to break in.”

All anyone needs is a key to the building, she added.

“And these days almost everyone has a set, because everyone’s been through there,” she said.

Gladue has been on the Whitehorse Housing waitlist since April.

And she’s in the top 10 per cent, in terms of need.

But there’s still no vacancy.

“It all comes around to housing and money,” said Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society of Yukon diagnostic co-ordinator Lilliam Sequeira.

“We know what works: supervision, recreational activities, good role models, safe housing — but it’s always, ‘How much is it going to cost?’” she said.

On Tuesday, FASSY was celebrating.

It was International Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Day and the organization was challenging Yukoners to a unique pledge — to stop drinking for nine months.

After FASSY executive director Deb Evensen, volunteer Marla Veliscek was the second to sign the pledge.

“I’m not a heavy drinker, but I like my aperitifs and liqueurs,” she said, taking a break from peeling potatoes for the barbecue.

“And if I go out, I like a glass of wine — it will be hard not to do that.”

Christmas is coming, and Veliscek is going to Ontario to see friends.

“So it will be a challenge,” she said.

Veliscek is going to tell people she’s pregnant.

“And I’m 70,” she said with a laugh.

“But if I say I’m pregnant and tell people what it’s all about, it will hopefully make people think,” she said.

“And next September (when the nine months are up) I’m going to have a party,” she added with a laugh.

There is lots of info out there about drinking during pregnancy and its dangers, said Sequeira.

“But the problem is people don’t walk the walk — they don’t apply this to their daily living.”

That’s the idea behind the pledge, to get people to think about what it means to stop drinking during a pregnancy term and to support that.

Selkirk First Nation Chief Darin Isaac was the 23rd person to sign the pledge.

“I’m leading by example,” he said.

“First Nations are trying to build capacity in their communities and prevention is the way to go.”

FASD is an issue in the Yukon, in every community, said Isaac.

“And our goal should be to get rid of it.”

Selkirk is working with FASD consultant and early childhood development strategist Suzie Kuerchner to build an early childhood development centre in Pelly Crossing.

“The centre will be pre-conceptual and pre-natal and go right through to the elders,” said Kuerchner.

“It’s multi-generational.”

Isaac hopes to break ground in the spring and have the centre, designed by Kobayashi and Zedda and an American architect, built by fall 2009.

Education will play a big role in battling FASD, he said.

NDP Leader Todd Hardy was the 26th person to sign the pledge.

“This is a huge issue that affects vulnerable babies for life,” said Hardy.

“So I’m doing this to raise consciousness.”

Hardy isn’t a drinker, but he enjoys the occasional beer or glass of wine, and the odd dram of Scotch.

“It’s the Scots in me,” he said.

Every week in his neighbourhood, Hardy sees youth as young as 12 getting so drunk they end up comatose.

“And I have problems liberalizing liquor laws, but not dealing with the effects of liquor — not enough effort goes toward FASSY — there’s not even enough treatment centres,” he said.

By 6 p.m. on Tuesday, 41 Yukoners had signed FASSY’s pledge, including Sequeira.

“I stopped drinking eight years ago,” she said.

“It was out of respect for my daughter who has FAS.”

After she stopped drinking socially, Sequeira had friends who stopped visiting and noticed that certain acquaintances were no longer inviting her over.

“And people would say, ‘Wow, you’re crazy,’ instead of encouraging words,” she said.

“But my dad is comfortable I don’t drink. I am the only one of his 10 kids to stop.”

Back home, in Costa Rica, Sequeira’s called “a glass of water.”

“If you don’t drink they say, ‘Don’t be such a glass of water,’” she said.

“It means a boring person.”

But Sequeira’s a happy glass of water.

“As parents and frontline workers, this is life for us,” she said.