Tackling Australia’s hidden disability - fetal alcohol spectrum disorder
Queensland criminal justice workers to tackle
Australia's hidden disability - fetal alcohol
The treatment of people with alcohol-related birth defects in
the criminal justice system will be the focus of a project aimed at
raising awareness of this under recognised disability.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD)1 are
the most common, preventable cause of disabilities and brain damage
in children, triggered by exposure to alcohol during pregnancy.
The $60,000 Australian-first study, funded by the Alcohol
Education & Rehabilitation Foundation (AER Foundation), will
see researchers survey the knowledge, attitudes, practices and
training deficits within Queensland criminal justice agencies when
dealing with people suffering from FASD.
Led by the University of Queensland Centre for Clinical
Research, those surveyed will include representatives from
probation and parole services, correctional services, the police
service, lawyers, judiciary, defence counsel and legal aid
AER Foundation Chief Executive Michael Thorn said people with
FASD are often overrepresented in the criminal justice
"It's unclear whether staff employed in criminal justice
agencies are adequately equipped to deal with people with FASD. In
cases where FASD goes unidentified, defendants may be
inappropriately dealt with by the justice process⁶.
"An insight into the knowledge, attitudes and practices of staff
within criminal justice agencies will be the first step towards
understanding any specific training needs they may require when
dealing with people suffering from this lifelong disability that
often goes unrecognised.
"Overall, the research outcomes will contribute to the
development of appropriate rehabilitation, support and management
strategies for FASD sufferers and their families. While this is a
Queensland-based project, we hope that it will provide a framework
that will be adopted across Australia," Mr Thorn said.
In a separate research study, the AER Foundation will provide
$50,000 funding support for an Australian-first research study
which will look into how children and teenagers with FASD are
treated by the criminal justice system. Conducted by the Telethon
Institute for Child Health Research in Perth, the study is due to
be completed early next year.
The projects are part of the AER Foundation's $500,000
investment to reduce the impact of FASD in Australia. The other AER
Foundation-funded projects are:
- The Children's Hospital at Westmead, New South Wales, will
develop Australia's first screening and diagnostic service for FASD
- The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, New South Wales,
will undertake a research study aimed at improving services for
pregnant women dependent on alcohol ($50,057 grant); and another
study to help improve services to families affected by FASD
- The Telethon Institute for Child Health Research will undertake
a research study into the screening and diagnosis of children with
FASD in state care ($150,000 grant)
- The George Institute for Global Health, New South Wales, will
produce two films: a feature documentary about the life of an
Aboriginal child living with FASD and an educational film about the
broader issue of FASD ($40,000 grant)
A recent community poll⁷ released by the AER Foundation found
that 80% of Australians believe consuming alcohol while pregnant
can be harmful to the developing foetus; and 72% believe drinking
alcohol while breastfeeding is harmful to the baby.
The poll also identified education gaps around the topic, with
less than half (42%) of respondents who have been pregnant or
breastfed recalling these harms being raised with them by a
"The AER Foundation will continue to address the gaps in FASD
research and practice. The outcomes from these projects will
provide much-needed support for people living with FASD, and their
carers and families."
Mr Thorn added: "Underpinning all this, we need to drive home
the point that not drinking at all while pregnant is the best
practice approach endorsed by our medical experts and the
Australian National Health and Medical Research Council Guidelines.
If we don't do something about this now, it will be too late for a
generation of children who will be born into a life of disability
as a result of their mother's drinking."
1Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) encompasses
four conditions: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS), partial FAS (pFAS),
Alcohol Related Birth Defects (ARBD) and Alcohol-Related
Neurodevelopmental Disorders (ARND).
2Green JH. 2007. Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders:
understanding the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure and
supporting students. J Sch Health. Mar;77(3):103-8.
3May PA, Gossage JP, Kalberg WO, Robinson LK, Buckley
D, Manning M, Hoyme HE. 2009. Prevalence and epidemiologic
characteristics of FASD from various research methods with an
emphasis on recent in-school studies. Developmental
Disabilities Research Reviews 15:176-192.
⁴Douglas H, 2010 The Sentencing Response to Defendnats with
Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Criminal Law
Journal 34: 221-239.
⁵Burd L, Selfridge R, Klug M, et al. 2004. Fetal alcohol
syndrome in the United States corrections system. Addict
⁶Fast D and Conry J, 2009. "Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders and
the Criminal Justice System" Developmental
Disabilities Research Reviews 15(3): 250-257.
⁷The AER Foundation-commissioned Galaxy study was conducted
between 14th to 17th January 2011. It was national online survey
(excluding NT) and was weighted by age, gender and location (based
on ABS population estimates) to the national population. There were
1,009 respondents aged 18 years and above.
- Ends -
Media Contact: Camille Alarcon - 02) 9492 1042
/ 0488 176 188
Alcohol Education & Rehabilitation Foundation (AER
Foundation): The AER Foundation is an independent,
charitable organisation working to prevent the harmful use of
alcohol in Australia. Since 2001, the AER Foundation has invested
over $115 million in research and community projects to minimise
the impact of alcohol misuse on Australians. Through our national
grants program and commissioned research, the AER Foundation has
established itself as a leading voice on alcohol and other drugs
issues. We work with community groups, all levels of government,
police, emergency workers, research institutions and the private
sector to address alcohol-related problems. For further information
visit our website: www.aerf.com.au