The Australian Government has announced $8 million in funding for new Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) diagnostic and prevention services around Australia.
The grants will enable a range of FASD prevention, support and diagnostic services to be rolled out over the next three years to assist people and their families affected by FASD, reduce alcohol-related harms, and safeguard the health and wellbeing of unborn children.
The announcement by Health Minister Greg Hunt was made on International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Awareness Day, when communities and organisations around the world amplified the message that there is no safe limit of alcohol consumption during pregnancy.
Long-term FASD advocate Anne Russell said about the funding “I think now that we are clearly on our way with FASD in Australia”.
Louise Gray, Chief Executive of NOFASD – the oldest dedicated FASD organisation in Australia – praised the Government for investing in PATCHES, the Telethon Kids Institute, Griffith Enterprises and NOFASD Australia.
“We are delighted that the Government, through the Department of Health, has taken notice of community and professional concerns about this alarming and harmful disorder and responded effectively,” said Ms Gray.
“The NOFASD Helpline funding of $1.5 million will enable NOFASD to promote long term solutions for prevention and intervention, enable longitudinal research, provide resources to ensure better management and support for those who live with FASD, and enhance the strength of the community sector to understand and respond to FASD.”
Perth-based PATCHES Paediatrics have been promised $2.7 million over three years to partner with local organisations and develop their capacity for FASD Diagnostic Services in the following locations:
- WA – Perth/Midland, Kimberley (East and West), Pilbara, Goldfields, Wheatbelt, Great Southern.
- NT – Darwin and Alice Springs.
- SA – Adelaide and Ceduna/Yalata.
- TAS – Hobart
- VIC – Greater Shepparton region/Goulburn Valley
Telethon Kids Institute will receive $2.5 million will to deliver a FASD prevention, education and referral program in the Northern Territory and New South Wales, so communities and health workers can have better access to information about the harms associated with drinking alcohol during pregnancy.
Dr James Fitzpatrick, Director of PATCHES Paediatrics and chief investigator on Telethon Kids Institute’s FASD Prevention research program, is leading both Commonwealth Government-funded FASD programs, and says the grants will help ensure people get diagnosed quickly and access the services they need promptly.
“The grants will also provide communities and health workers with better access to information about the harms associated with alcohol consumption during pregnancy,” said Dr Fitzpatrick.
Funding of $1.37 million for a Griffith University program will see children with FASD in Queensland receive help earlier in life to get the ongoing care and services they will need over their lifetime. Led by Professor Sharon Dawe from Griffith’s Menzies Health Institute Queensland, the program will allow for the expansion of the two FASD clinics in the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast, and has the potential to improve foundational skills in children and to work with carers and parents to support their children’s development.
“The expansion of these clinics also allows us to provide services to younger children aged 3-7 and embed a pathway of care that brings together key stakeholders who can refer children to the diagnostic services,” says Professor Sharon Dawe.
In addition to the funding provided by the Commonwealth Government Department of Health,, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) will provide at least $1.5 million in partnership projects to support targeted research for better prevention and screening of FASD in Indigenous communities.
The funding announcement followed the launch the two Commonwealth Government-funded FASD-focused health promotion campaigns Pregnant Pause and Women Want to Know, which target consumers and health professionals respectively.
The Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) Chief Executive Michael Thorn said the national campaigns, developed by FARE are helping ensure that vital conversations about going alcohol-free during pregnancy will continue on longer after International FASD Day has ended.
“With awareness and understanding of Australia’s drinking guidelines remaining low, and FASD being the most common preventable cause of non-genetic, developmental disability in Australia, it is great to see the Commonwealth Government respond to this issue in a comprehensive way,” said Mr Thorn.
NOFASD Australia has a strong commitment to FASD prevention at a primary, secondary and early intervention level. Funding will assist NOFASD in ensuring FASD is recognised as a disability in Australia, promoting social inclusion by advancing the rights and interests of people living with FASD, and providing information, referral and support to individuals and families at a grassroots level. Support will also assist NOFASD in providing education and training workshops to parent and carer groups, government and non-government service providers and school communities throughout Australia.
The funding for the Griffith Enterprise program ‘Care for children and their families dealing with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)’ will allow clinics to provide services to younger children aged 3-7 and embed a pathway of care that brings together key stakeholders who can refer children to the diagnostic services. Early diagnosis and support essential for children with a FASD – particularly when early to middle childhood is a time when children learn important foundational skills around managing their own behaviours, learning to plan activities and follow more complex instructions.
Telethon Kids Institute
Telethon Kids Alcohol and Pregnancy & FASD Research team have a goal of making FASD history in Australia; a boost in funding will also assist in their continued research activities. Their research is built on a range of partnerships, and is focused on finding effective strategies to manage and educate a child and young person with FASD, educate people about the dangers of drinking alcohol when planning a pregnancy, when pregnant and when breastfeeding, and educate and train professionals to ask, assess, record, advise and assist about alcohol use in pregnancy, and to diagnose and manage FASD
National FASD Hub
On 9 September the Government also launched the National FASD Hub – a ‘one stop shop’ for information, tools and resources that are current and evidence based. The hub, developed by the University of Sydney, provides access to comprehensive information for health professionals, parents and carers, other professionals (including for justice, education, child protection and disability services), researchers and policy makers.