Preparing to Parent in British Columbia: A Profile of Participants in the BC Healthy Connections Project

October 25, 2018

Charlotte Waddell, Nicole Catherine, Harriet MacMillan, Rosemary Lever, Patricia Wallis, Debbie Sheehan, Michael Boyle, Amiram Gafni, Lawrence McCandless, Lil Tonmyr, Andrea Gonzalez, Susan Jack, Ron Barr, Colleen Varcoe and Lenora Marcellus for the BC Healthy Connections Project Scientific Team. Preparing to Parent in British Columbia: A Profile of Participants in the BC Healthy Connections Project. Vancouver, BC: Children’s Health Policy Centre, Simon Fraser University, 2018.

This report provides baseline data from the British Columbia Healthy Connections Project (BCHCP) randomized controlled trial (RCT) — describing our 739 participants when they first entered the study in early pregnancy. This RCT is evaluating the effectiveness of the Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) program compared with BC’s existing services (2011–2021). Focusing on families who are coping with socio-economic disadvantage, NFP aims to improve children’s mental health and development while also improving mothers’ lives. Basic demographics were as follows.

▪ Nearly half of participants (49%) were age 14–19 years while just over half (51%) were age 20–24 years.

▪ Participants had a variety of cultural backgrounds, with more than half (57% or 418 of the 739) identifying as “white” and more than a quarter (27% or 200 of the 739) identifying as Indigenous.

Overall, our data show pockets of deep socio-economic disadvantage for this group of BC girls and young women who were pregnant and preparing to parent for the first time.

▪ Most (83%) were living on less than $20,000 pre-tax annually. More than half (53%) had not completed high school. Almost all (91%) were preparing to parent while single. Nearly half (47%) had experienced homelessness, and a third (34%) had to move three or more times in the past year.

▪ Most participants (74%) reported coping with long-term health conditions. Nearly half (47%) reported having mental health problems including severe anxiety or depression. Many also reported prenatal substance use including nicotine/cigarettes (27%), cannabis (21%), alcohol (2%) and other street drugs (1%).

▪ More than half of participants (56%) reported experiencing moderate-to-severe neglect, physical abuse, emotional abuse and/or sexual abuse when they were children, at age 16 years or younger. Half (50%) also reported intimate partner violence within the past year.

▪ Most participants (77%) had recently received primary health care services for physical health concerns. But few were receiving income assistance (29%) despite almost all living on low income, and few were accessing important BC benefits for people on low income such as PharmaCare (18%) or Medical Services Plan Premium Assistance (35%).

▪ Overall, 89% of these girls and young women were experiencing three or more forms of disadvantage, with 77% experiencing four or more and 56% experiencing five or more.

The BCHCP RCT continues as we gather data until all the children reach age two years. Final results will be available in 2020–2021. Beyond evaluating NFP’s effectiveness, the RCT is highlighting a population that has been underserved. Many participants also tell us, anecdotally, that through this study they feel their voices are being heard, often for the first time. We are pleased to share their stories — through our data.

Full text of this report is available here.