On Friday 6th October 2018 we had the pleasure of co-hosting the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Forum in collaboration with Alcohol Healthwatch, this forum featured international and local guest speakers, including Dr Mansfield Mela, Dr Glen Luther and Claire Gyde.
Dr. Mansfield Mela, from the University of Saskatchewan, provided an insightful presentation the implications that FASD has to the justice system. Three areas, Dr. Mela identified, that can help to understand the nature of FASD are;
- the screening tools currently available for FASD, such as the neurobehavioral screening test and Asante probation officer screening
- testing the risk factors of FASD, such as prenatal alcohol exposure, other prenatal and postnatal risk factors
- facial features, such as flat nasal bridge, smooth philtrum and thin upper lip
Dr. Mela also touched up on some of the effects that FASD has on brain development, which in turn influences concentration, attention, learning, thinking and reasoning and employment opportunities later in life. Learning difficulties are often associated with school challenges, family problems, mental illnesses, and substance abuse. Additionally, those with FASD have some behavioral characteristics linked to criminality such as poor social judgment, inability to perceive danger or predict consequences and a high tolerance for pain. This, in turn, leads to high contact with the criminal justice system.
One of the concerning issues is that FASD is often misdiagnoses to other health issues such as reactive attachment disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and anxiety and mood disorder. Other issues include gaps in professionals and knowledge base around FASD and the high costs of FASD. Where FASD cost is estimated to be around $ 1.2 million each year. This includes costs to the correctional and criminal justice system, health, education, and social services.
Claire Gyde, presented on whanau experiences of the justice system, on behalf of FASD Care Action Network. Members of this network includes families, professionals and organisations with an interest in FASD. The primary objective of this network is to unite caregivers, strengthen families, support individuals and educate about FASD across New Zealand. Claire talked about current gaps in the health system that are referred to as fragilities of FASD. Such gaps include access to FASD assessments, drug and alcohol awareness and help, and prison population prevalence study. A case study of a young man with FASD was used to explain difficulties facing individuals with FASD. Impairments associated with FASD such as learning disabilities, impulsivity, hyperactivity and poor judgment increases the likelihood of people with FASD to be victimised and involved in the criminal justice system.