Wanda Beland is a member of CanFASD’s Family Advisory Committee and the Executive Director of the North West Region FASD Society. She and her husband are the adoptive parents of four adolescents and adults with FASD. Trained in education, Wanda has coordinated diagnostic clinics, FASD programs for all ages and Parent-Child Assistance Programs. Growing up in a traditional First Nations family in the North, she brings remote and isolated area experience, especially from aboriginal areas and perspectives.
You have an academic background in education. In what ways did this background prepare you to be a caregiver?
The academic background provided me with information about the developmental and psychological profiles of children and youth, as well as the tools to research, analyze, and adapt information, strategies, and techniques when working with children and youth. Long term, the skills I learned also helped me to advocate within all systems for people with FASD. I would say that this was trial and error learning, but most systems are. With the uniqueness of each of our children, trial, error and adaptations was the process within all learning and systems.
What is the most important thing you’ve learned as an adoptive parent of adolescents and adults with FASD?
The most important thing I’ve learned as an adoptive parent is unconditional love for my children’s’ lifetimes, being the support when it’s inconvenient, to pray continuously, and to have hope that there is a pathway through to the other side no matter what is happening in the moment. I have also learned that I have to continually educate other adults and family in my children’s lives to try to get them to the same acceptance of limitations and recognition of the strengths. “Growing up” for an adult living with FASD is a different process, but does happen; the safety net we carefully weave for them as children and adolescents must remain as they move into the adult world.
How has your role as executive director for the NWR FASD Society and on the Parent Advisory Committee with CanFASD enriched your ability to care for people with FASD?
Being on the Family Advisory Committee and Executive Director of an agency that develops programs to support my adult children long term is my way of making a difference. As the Executive Director, I have knowledge of the many challenges that individuals and families experience in the journey of FASD, and it allows me to share my own experiences and use the knowledge I have gained to help improve our programming to better address the needs of individuals and families. As a member of the FAC my hope is to help inform and guide research that will ensure my adult children and the individuals I work with through our agency will benefit from changes in systems that the research will inform.
What do you think is the best way to combat negative stereotypes that associate FASD with Indigenous groups in Canada?
The best way to combat the negative stereotypes about FASD and Indigenous groups is to acknowledge and educate about the prevalence of alcohol use throughout the world. This information must first start with our own indigenous communities, so the leaders and individuals can educate those they come in contact with. Next, we really need to make sure that the leaders at all levels have the core knowledge about the impact of prenatal alcohol exposure and the widespread impact it has in all communities, not specific cultures.
When preventing FASD in indigenous communities, it is important to take a culturally sensitive approach that is respectful of Indigenous history, and supportive of self-determination and cultural resurgence. In your experience, how is this best achieved?
Continuous relationship development with individuals, leaders, professionals, and agencies is the start of preventing FASD in all communities. Building trust and sharing the information and knowledge with every individual, being available during the difficult times, as well as the celebrations, shows that the individual/agency is there for the community long term. Being available to provide your expertise at whatever level when requested and being open and honest about what you do know and do not know in any situation is key. Not worrying about the politics, but engaging with the people; not looking for acknowledgement, but working to make a difference and accepting that there are many pathways to get the message of prevention out and it will happen. Accepting that whatever you can do to support someone within any moment is where the change of perception, knowledge and information on FASD or prevention begins or grows.