KUUJJUAQ — Stacey Ningiuruvik-Turner’s office at the Tulattavik health centre in Kuujjuaq is full of toys, but her work is far from child’s play.
Seated on a shelf are three life-size baby dolls, each in a sleeper. Their facial expressions tell of different health scenarios: the baby on the left shows the features of an infant exposed prenatally to drugs; the baby on the right shows the features of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD); the baby in the centre is considered healthy.
Ningiuruvik-Turner is a family educator with the centre’s integrated perinatal and early childhood services program, often called by its French-language acronym SIPPE.
Her job is to visit homes, schools and daycares in Nunavik’s largest community to deliver educational materials on healthy pregnancy and caring for babies and toddlers.
FASD prevention is a major part of that education, Ningiuruvik-Turner says, noting there is no diagnostic program in Nunavik.
“When people say they don’t know anything about FASD, I’m happy to tell them,” she said, motioning towards the three baby dolls. “I can give them basic information on FASD and show them how to notice things like facial features. We give them information on all the supports available in the community.”
Ningiuruvik-Turner is among the very first family education workers hired in Nunavik as the health centre rolls out its integrated services program, aimed at family wellness. Its goal: to bring together existing health care professionals and social programming from across the region in order to offer a full array of support to expecting parents and children, from birth until they enter school.
That means that, from the time a woman learns she’s pregnant, she and her spouse and family are targeted for services and support like FASD prevention, nutritious food baskets and birthing education.
“When parents come to do a pregnancy test, the education starts there,’ said Marie-Claude Péloquin, the SIPPE-FASD coordinator at Tulattavik.
This month, SIPPE staff will organize the program’s first-ever baby shower, when expecting moms can come together and celebrate their maternity. The health centre will be giving away its first batch of baby baskets — a small cradle or basket for a newborn to sleep in, filled with gifts like pyjamas, blankets, mittens and other basics.
Finland spearheaded these baby-boxes, but Péloquin said the idea was in part inspired by the sudden death of an infant in Puvirnituq last summer, who is believed to have died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. In a region where overcrowded housing is common, it’s important for newborns to have a safe space to sleep, she said.
Once the baby arrives, families receive regular home visits, which include basic education on how to soothe a crying baby, SIDS and discipline. As children move into the daycare system, the centre’s early stimulation program workers visit to identify children with any special needs.
In the South, SIPPE is already delivered by health centres across the province but the services are generally targeted at the most vulnerable populations.
But in the North, the program’s coordinators decided that all Nunavimmiut families could be considered vulnerable, so the program is extended to everyone in the region.
Instead of health and social services delivered individually, Nunavik’s two major health centres, Tulattavik and Inuulitsivik, are working on developing a more integrated approach, explained Luce Lepage, the head of youth and family program at Tulattavik.
“For all these young families with children from age 0-5, we consider: how can we prioritize the services they need?” Lepage said. “It’s really a community approach.”
The project has been established in Kuujjuaq, in part in Kangiqsualujjuaq and will be implemented in a third community in the fall of 2015.
The project’s longer-term goal is to allow each Nunavik community to adapt and develop the program according to its own needs, Lepage said.
“That’s why is so important to support the Inuit family educators and give them the support they need to stay on,” she said.
As an Inuk mom of a two-year-old boy, Ningiuruvik-Turner understands how important family support is to young families.
And she understands the challenges parents face raising their children in a region that struggles with a housing shortage, domestic violence and addiction.
“When I go into the high school to talk to teenagers about [family planning and wellness], they always have a lot of questions for me,” Ningiuruvik-Turner said.
Those questions remind her that her outreach work is effective.
“I really hope those teenagers realize they can be a part of this too,” she said. “It would be awesome to have more Inuit working on this.”