Saskatchewan

New Saskatoon home aims to offer hope, sense of family for pregnant women with HIV

A non-profit in Saskatoon is building a home for pregnant women with HIV, the first of its kind in Canada.

Sanctum 1.5 will result in better outcomes for both mom and baby, says executive director

The non-profit Sanctum Care Group is building a prenatal home for women with HIV. Pictured here are Sanctum executive director Katelyn Rogers, left, and program director Kathy Malbeuf. (Submitted by Sanctum)

A non-profit in Saskatoon is building a home for pregnant women with HIV — the first of its kind in Canada, the group says.

Katelyn Roberts is executive director of Sanctum Care Group, a community-based organization involved with the treatment of HIV patients which currently operates a 10-bed hospice in Saskatoon.

She says the goal of the organization's new home is to provide the mothers with the health and social supports they need.

"Services often aren't offered to women until after babies are born and we know women are most motivated for change when they're pregnant," Roberts said.

"It becomes increasingly difficult when you're struggling with homelessness and chronic disease, maybe poverty and addiction, to get the appropriate resources in place to care for your child."

Called Sanctum 1.5, Roberts says the new 10-bed home will create a sense of family which is missing from the lives of many HIV-positive pregnant women. Roberts estimates as many as 98 per cent of the women she works with have been in the foster care system as children.

"It's something we take for granted. I grew up in a family home where I had a mother and father and I had people to mentor me, and these women haven't had that. That experience has been taken away from them."

A volunteer with the Sanctum project. The new building, called Sanctum 1.5, is expected to open this September. (Submitted by Sanctum)

The home-like setting will allow expectant mothers to go to parenting classes together, cook in the kitchen together, or simply hang out and watch movies. It's also important for them to interact with other women like them, to see that their path can be different.

"They've experienced over and over again their children apprehended and they've witnessed other women go into hospital and have their children apprehended," Roberts said.

I sure wish it was there when I needed it.- Alyssa, mother living with HIV

"So oftentimes even when you say to them 'you've done everything you need to do, and that baby is coming home with you,' because of the history they experienced in that system, it's often hard for them to believe."

That reactionary system of child apprehension also has poor outcomes for the children, Roberts said. Programs like Sanctum 1.5 will give the women more opportunities to prevent apprehension at the hospital, and a better chance of reducing illicit substance use during pregnancy.

'I think my kids would be with me'

Alyssa is a woman living at the current Sanctum home, across the street from where Sanctum 1.5 is being built.

Her children are in foster care, and she says if she'd had access to a program like Sanctum 1.5, they might still be with her.

CBC is not using Alyssa's last name to protect the identity of her kids.

"I sure wish it was there when I needed it," she told CBC Radio's Saskatoon Morning, her voice raw with emotion. "I think my kids would be with me."

She says homelessness and drug use contributed to her circumstances.

Roberts said that like many women in the community, Alyssa has experienced a lot of trauma related to having her children taken away from her.

"It's really difficult to recover from that kind of trauma," Roberts said.

Sanctum 1.5 opens this September across the street from the first Sanctum home, which provides care for people with HIV who have high-risk lives, including homelessness.

About the Author

Ashleigh Mattern is a web writer and reporter with CBC Saskatoon, CBC Saskatchewan, and CBC North; and an associate producer with Saskatoon Morning. She has been working as a journalist since 2007 and joined CBC in 2017. Email: ashleigh.mattern@cbc.ca

With files from Saskatoon Morning