Support worker aims to erase FASD stigma through education

Crystal Millions with the Victoria Native Friendship Centre is working with UVic students on a new printable resource she hopes to have available for families by the end of the year.

A Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) support worker in Victoria says stigma in her line of work has led to a lack of information that’s available for families.

That’s why Crystal Millions, who works for the Victoria Native Friendship Centre, is working to create a new resource and break stereotypes through her programs.

Millions spoke with IndigiNews to explain her role as a FASD key support worker and talks about some of the challenges that families — particularly mothers — often face.

“I think education is one of the biggest turning points for moms who are trying to understand their own health and their baby’s health,” she says.

“Not only with moms but I think in the medical field and with service providers as well.”

Millions explains that FASD occurs when alcohol transfers from the mom to the baby through the umbilical cord. 

There are multiple FASD workers across Vancouver Island, including two others in Victoria at Beacon Hill Community Services.

Millions’s job is to help parents with children who have FASD in group work, as well as meeting with schools and daycares to support teachers and other staff.

She says, through this work, she’s noticed the lack of services and information that’s readily available around FASD compared to other disorders such as autism — and believes that is because of the stigma that exists.

That’s why she is currently working with two University of Victoria students to create a new printable resource for people with FASD and hopes to have it available to the public this December. 

She hopes the resource will simplify what parts of the brain are impacted, where to get support, and what developmental markers can be used to pick up on it.

“One of the biggest barriers is a lot of programs … don’t know what FASD is, or moms aren’t feeling comfortable talking if they are using, because there’s just no education on how to support them that way,” she says.

‘A judgement-free environment’

Millions herself has Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder, which has motivated her to help others.

“I’m very much for advocating for the community, researching for the community and building connections,” she says.

Many people assume that women who use substances while they are pregnant “do not care” — however many women don’t know they are pregnant for the first few weeks, Millions says. Some others are incorrectly told that they have miscarried and use alcohol to cope before recognizing the mistake which is why Millions says it’s important to provide a judgement-free environment. 

Stereotypes disproportionately impact Indigenous communities says Millions, who herself is of English and Vietnamese ancestry.

“It’s hard to talk about, but it does stem from a lot of racism and residential schools and families who were treated a certain way for generations so they pass on that teaching to parents,” she says.

“They don’t want to talk about when they’re struggling and they don’t want to reach out to a lot of medical professionals because medical professionals have failed them in many ways.” 

Before COVID-19, there was a parent support group where mothers and fathers would come in and share a meal together.

There would be Elder support, and parents could discuss the challenges and successes of parenting children with FASD. 

Millions says she hopes to reopen that space soon with a safety plan in place. 

For now, she is doing one on one work and working closely with some of the schools in the Greater Victoria Area. 

“Every child who is flagged by the school as having diverse needs, has a meeting every year to talk about how the school can best support them with the resources that they have,” she says. 

“I usually will sit in on the meeting and try and give a FASD perspective into why the children might be doing things a certain way, what supports that could be put in place that might not have been thought about already and also trying to bring in some cultural aspects as to how to support the children.”

Our series on reproductive health access is made possible in part with funding from First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) and Thunderbird Partnership Foundation. Their support does not imply endorsement of or influence over the content produced. 

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