February 17, 2016 6:30 pm

Hope, help and healing part III: ‘I can take care of my son by myself’ – mom credits AVIRT program

WATCH ABOVE: Having a baby can be the most exciting time in a person's life, but for new mothers who struggle with domestic violence or addiction issues, it can also be the most challenging. In part three of her five-part series, Nancy Hixt introduces us to the Alberta Vulnerable Infant Response Team at the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre.


Raquel has had five children–four of whom have been taken away by Child and Family Services. Now 32, this mother is finally allowed to raise her son by herself.

“He’s my strength; he lights up my day,” Raquel said of her baby boy.

It’s been a huge accomplishment for Raquel, whose lifestyle put her in danger of her losing this child as well.

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“It’s really hard for me because I haven’t had a child in my care being sober, and having my own place and having the supports in place. Two months into my pregnancy, I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was incarcerated. I had no one, I felt I had no one at that time. I had contacted children services ’cause I knew I would be high risk. I really wanted to keep my son.”

The difference with this child is Raquel has had help: the Alberta Vulnerable Infant Response Team (AVIRT) has been with her since day one.

“They came into my life the first day I had my son, and that was at the Foothills hospital.”

READ MORE: Part II of Hope, help and healing – POST helps high-risk women prep for motherhood

Like other units that operate in the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre, AVIRT takes a collaborative approach.

The team is made up of a police officer, a nurse, and an assessor from Child and Family Services. Each brings a certain expertise to the table, to help new moms overcome the hurdles that would otherwise prevent them from being a stable parent.

Calgary Police Cst. Corinne Murray helps many of the clients deal with issues related to the law, such as court or probation, or the triggers that could lead to criminal problems.

“We can reach out in different ways but we do it as a team,” Murray said.

Nicole Clark is a nurse, providing all health supports needed for the new moms, from feeding issues to general care for the baby.

“How mom’s coping with her transition to parenting, how she’s coping with her own mental health and well-being, addictions, domestic violence,” Clark said. “A success story for AVIRT is a mom who is able to successfully parent her infant. We want to put those supports and resources in place so they can be successful at that.”

Britany Link describes is as an assessor with Child and Family Services.

“We deal with families from all walks of life, all different cultures…basically build on what they are doing well so they can be successful parents. I always tell my parents, I know it sounds rude but, ‘I hope to never see you again’ because that means we’ve done our job well,” said Link .

There are approximately 45 referrals to AVIRT every month at the SKCAC.

For Raquel, the team was tasked with helping her break the cycle of domestic abuse, and overcome her addiction and mental health issues.

“They never judged me. I felt at ease when they came and did the visits with my son,” Raquel said. “When I’m at my lowest, I could call them, and they know me. They’ve supported me in every way.”

Raquel’s son is now 14 months old.

She’s finally living her dream of raising one of her children on her own.

“I’m enjoying every moment of it, of being a mother. I know I’m independent now, and I know I can take care of my son by myself.”

Watch below: Parts I and II of Nancy Hixt’s special series – Hope, help and healing

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