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Today, September 9, is FASD Awareness Day. I was not aware of such a thing until a few days ago, when I cried on Facebook about the challenges of FASD (or whatever the acronym) and why no one seems to talk about prevention.

FASD. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Babies born brain-damaged because their mothers drank alcohol while pregnant.

According to FASworld.com, a Canadian organization dedicated to raising awareness of the social costs of FASD, nearly 30% of expectant mothers still drink alcohol while  pregnant, making Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders the most common, most expensive, yet most preventable of all mental disorders in the industrialized world.

Statistics are hard animals to tame, though. According to canfasd.ca,

There are currently no confirmed statistics on the number of people who have FASD in Canada. The most commonly cited estimate is 9.1 per 1,000 live births or roughly 1% of the population. This is an estimated rate extrapolated from studies conducted in the United States. Based on the currently accepted prevalence rate of 1%, the annual cost of FASD in Canada has been estimated at approximately $7.6 billion.

and,

FASD is recognized as a significant issue in Canada. It is currently the leading known cause of developmental disability in Canada and has life-long impacts. Governments are working to measure prevalence and to determine the most effective intervention and prevention programs. Every year, millions of dollars are spent in an attempt to improve outcomes for affected individuals and their families. However, we do not have a clear understanding of the most effective supports for the capacity required to deliver cost-effective, accessible and sustainable prevention, intervention and diagnostic services.

It’s a huge problem. According to johnhoward.on.ca, some researchers estimate the rate of FASD to be ten times higher inside Canadian prisons than in the general population. Honestly, you only need to spend five minutes searching FASD online to learn how dire the situation is. Besides prisons, FASD children are filling our foster homes and our classrooms.

What you won’t find are prevention solutions. Because, as the quote above states, we do not have a clear understanding of the most effective supports for the capacity required to deliver cost-effective, accessible and sustainable prevention, intervention and diagnostic services.

Which means, basically, that this is a huge problem and no one knows what to do about it. Or maybe no one is brave enough to go there.

Here are a few thoughts from a not very politically correct, Jesus-loving, tired-of-the-bullshit foster parent.

If the only way to prevent FASD is to keep women from drinking (binge-drinking, especially) during pregnancy, then let’s talk about how to do that.

1. Involve the justice system. Make it illegal. An alcohol-abusing woman spending a few months incarcerated (or in a treatment program) is a much smaller price to pay than a life-time of caring for her FASD child. Harsh? Maybe, but if we are willing to take the child away from her after birth and put him into foster care, which is also harsh, we should care enough to intervene during the pregnancy.

2. Involve the church. Hello, church? Are we willing to take this on? Are there ways to channel women in need into homes willing to care? Are we willing to put dollars into this? Are we interested in thinking outside the box?

3. I don’t know. What do you think?

As a foster mom, I’m pretty sure almost all the kids I’ve had in my home have had FASD, although I don’t think any of them were officially diagnosed as such. If they were school-aged, they were diagnosed with ADHD and were on Ritalin. FASD is a hard diagnosis to make. The characteristics of the disorder become more pronounced the child gets older and he or she fails more of society’s expectations of acceptable behaviour.

The foster kids I’ve loved have stolen from me, screamed obscenities at me, and spit in my face. They’ve also hugged me and said they loved me. Sometimes they’ve done all these things within one hour. When a new child comes into my home I’m on guard, watching for signs. I’m evaluating behaviours and trying to decide whether the two-year old’s tantrums are normal or symptomatic. I’m wondering if there will come a time when this child will become unmanageable. It’s heart-breaking and gut-wrenching, because it’s not his fault he takes things that don’t belong to him and it’s not her fault she struggles to get along with the kids at school. These kids have to deal with so much more than normal kids and there is no cure and very little hope.

We are failing these kids. We are SO failing them and we are failing their moms.

It’s FASD Awareness Day. Awareness is great, but we need more than that, because honestly, we don’t have enough fingers to plug all the holes this tragic, preventable condition is creating.

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