Blog Post #1: The Parent Child Assistance Program (PCAP) is a project of the Social Innovation Fund

Help at Home

New program meets moms with addictions where they are.

The team is in place, and the first clients are enrolled.


The Parent-Child Assistance Program, or PCAP, has officially come to Saint John.


The in-home support program for pregnant women and mothers with babies up to one year old with addictions is one of the projects that’s received funding from the Social Innovation Fund (SIF), managed by Living SJ. This provincial investment of $10 million over five years supports new and experimental approaches to fight generational poverty in Saint John.

Filling the gaps

For Dr. Sarah Gander, head of the NB Social Pediatrics Research Program, which is piloting PCAP, the funding allows her and her colleagues to fill the gaps between existing programs and mitigate against the barriers these women face. Often socially isolated, they may also lack stable housing, transportation, childcare, and the sort of basic services most of us take for granted, like a phone.

“It is my way of approaching generational poverty, by decreasing the number of alcohol and drug-exposed babies and supporting families now facing substance use problems.” - Dr. Sarah Gander

The project is based on the original PCAP, a wildly successful program founded in Washington State in the 1990s that’s since been adopted in a number of American and Canadian communities.


Exploring "what ifs"

A leading researcher and advocate on the social determinants of health and the effects of poverty on the health of children, the SIF funding allows Dr. Gander and her team to explore a number of “what ifs”: What if we made these moms, who feel vilified for their substance abuse, feel supported instead? What if we could do better for these families to whom the system is not always helpful – or kind? What if the case manager could also be a kind of surrogate “auntie” or friend for those without a support network of their own? What if clients could never be kicked out, even if they relapsed?


“We knew the most important thing was hiring the right team,” says Sarah Campbell, research manager of NB Social Pediatrics Research Program.


Two case managers, Holly Seale and Kate Robar, have been hired, as has clinical supervisor Mark Saulnier and office manager Lora Durant.

First clients enrolled

With staff in place and trained, PCAP started admitting its first clients in the fall.


One of the most significant early learnings has been the intensity of the intake process. The interviews are long – up to three hours – and the questions deeply personal.


“We understand it’s tough,” says Kate. “But we know what we can do for them once we get them through the door.”


For Mark, who is also a counsellor with particular expertise in abuse, PCAP is all about breaking the cycles of addiction.


“We need that early intervention,” he says. “In my practice, I see a lot of generational poverty, a lot of patterning, and it’s not a healthy start to life. We need to start sooner.”

All support, no judgement

The PCAP approach is client-centred and deeply compassionate.

“They need to know we’re not judgmental,” Lora says. “We just offer them understanding. We’re here to support them, just extending that grace to them.”


Holly, who has years of experience as a social worker, came out of retirement for the job. She loves that she is able to respond to the particular needs of each mom. And that she’s with them for three years, through tough times, but also good ones.


“We’re not leaving,” she says. “They’ll have the support they need. There’s no such thing as getting fired or kicked out.”


For Kate, it’s the chance to work with moms, to build success with them, to give them “that little bit of light.” That may mean learning to celebrate their child.


“For many, no one ever celebrated them,” she says. “I want to help them recognize the joy in life.”

The Parent-Child Assistance Program is an important element of  the New Brunswick Social Pediatrics Research Program which is made possible through generous donations to the Saint John Regional Hospital Foundation. PCAP is one of eight projects of the Social Innovation Fund managed by Living SJ. This investment by the Province of New Brunswick of $10 million over five years supports new approaches to fight generational poverty in Saint John and involves many community partners, including the Saint John Regional Hospital Foundation.

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