The ABC Four Corners investigation, broadcast last night, has turned the nation’s attention to the children and families living with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).
FASD is an umbrella term for the range of learning, behavioural and developmental disabilities resulting from alcohol exposure during pregnancy.
The Four Corners program highlighted the negative stigma, lack of support, and the difficulty accessing services that children born with FASD and their families face.
Researchers and passionate individuals have been working tirelessly to raise awareness of FASD for many years.
And organisations such as the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) have advocated for the policies and programs we know will prevent, diagnose and support those with FASD; including introducing mandatory alcohol pregnancy warning labels, and ensuring FASD is covered under the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
Government policy response to FASD has reached a critical juncture and Australia needs to urgently increase diagnostic capacity to make a lasting difference.
In that context, FARE has prepared a National Clinic and Clinical Network proposal calling for a much needed rural FASD clinic and a National clinical network.
At the moment there are very limited opportunities for a child to be assessed for FASD: at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead in New South Wales, or the Community Child Health Service on the Queensland Gold Coast which operate on a part-time basis; and the PATCHES Paediatrics rural and remote FASD clinic in Western Australia.
FARE’s proposal calls on the Commonwealth Government to support these three existing services, and to establish Australia’s first regional FASD diagnostic clinic in Shepparton, Victoria to service the Goulburn Valley.
Clinics are needed because parents are seeking diagnoses. And until a diagnosis can be made the imperative and the case for support and care will always come up short. Ultimately, sustainable diagnostic services need to be integrated with and not independent of current child development, paediatric and community paediatric services, but for now parents need access to dedicated diagnostic services.
Equally important, is investing in training and up-skilling health professionals. This includes creating a national database for FASD diagnosis outcomes and information sharing, and introducing an accredited training program.
As the Four Corners program showed, people born with FASD have the disability for life and the implications are far reaching.
There are significant gaps in the prevention, diagnosis and management of FASD in Australia, and much more work to be done if we are to see progress.
To make a difference, Australia urgently needs properly funded FASD diagnostic clinics which can meet demand, standardised resources and training for health professionals, and a National FASD Clinical Network for a coordinated approach.
View FARE’s National FASD Clinic and Clinical Network proposal.
For more detail on additional policy responses to FASD, see FARE’s Australian Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Action Plan, a costed roadmap developed in 2012 outlining what governments can do.
Find out more about the Women Want to Know campaign, which provides practical resources and training for health professionals to have conversations about alcohol and pregnancy.