Lindsay Wolfson MPH | Rose A. Schmidt MPH | Julie Stinson MA | Nancy Poole PhD
Pregnant women and mothers who use substances often face significant barriers to accessing and engaging with substance use services. A scoping review was conducted in 2019 to understand how stigma impacts access to, retention in and outcomes of harm reduction and child welfare services for pregnant women and mothers who use substances.
The forty-two (n = 42) articles were analysed using the Action Framework for Building an Inclusive Health System developed by Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer to articulate the ways in which stigma and related health system barriers are experienced at the individual, interpersonal, institutional and population levels. Many
articles highlighted barriers across multiple levels, 19 of which cited barriers at the individual level (i.e., fear and mistrust of child welfare services), 18 at the interpersonal
level (i.e., familial and relational influence on accessing substance use treatment), 30 at the institutional level (i.e., high organisational expectations on women) and 17 at
the population level (i.e., negative stereotypes and racism).
Our findings highlight the interconnectedness of stigma and related barriers and the ways in which stigma at the institutional and population levels pervasively influence individual and interpersonal experiences of stigma. Despite a wealth of literature on barriers to treatment and support for pregnant women and mothers who use substances, there has been minimal focus on how systems can address these formidable barriers. This review highlights the ways in which the barriers are connected and identifies opportunities for service providers and policymakers to better support pregnant women and mothers who use substances.
What is known about this topic?
Pregnant women and mothers who use substances face unique stigma and formidable barriers to support, for both reducing harms associated with their substance use and enhancing
their capacity to parent.
What this paper adds?
• An understanding of how multiple levels of stigma perpetuate barriers faced by pregnant
women and mothers involved in substance use and child welfare services.
• Evidenced-based solutions for addressing these barriers are presented.