Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is an umbrella term for a range of conditions caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol, often before a woman is aware of her pregnancy. Of all the substances of abuse (marijuana, cocaine and heroin), alcohol produces by far the most serious neuro-behavioural effects to the foetus. People living with FASD have complex medical, psychological and social needs but in Australia, FASD has not yet been officially recognized as a disability and there continues to be significant gaps in the prevention, diagnosis and management of FASD.
As part of its Sharing Solutions programme, the Institute and the Department of Corrective Services co-sponsored a visit to Perth by Canadian FASD expert Dr Julianne Conry. With over 30 years experience researching, assessing and working with people with FASD, and with a record of successfully advocating for legislative transformation, particularly in juvenile justice, Dr Conry was ideally suited to the Sharing Solutions programme which specifically addresses pressing societal problems by connecting knowledge across multiple areas of expertise and practice.
Dr Conry undertook a range of activities including seminars with senior members of the judiciary, with the FASD team at the Telethon Kids Institute, training sessions for staff at Banksia Hill Juvenile Detention Centre and the Department of Corrective Services, and workshops for government and non-government agencies. A highlight of Dr Conry’s visit was a FASD symposium focusing on children with FASD and Western Australia’s criminal justice system and which brought together researchers, postgraduate students and cross-sector representatives. In his opening speech, the Commissioner of Corrective Services, Mr James McMahon, announced the establishment of a FASD assessment centre at UWA’s Robyn Winkler Centre, funded by a Youth Justice Board grant and led by Drs Raewyn Mutch and Amanda Wilkins.
Dr Conry’s visit attracted considerable media attention. ABC local and national radio aired interviews with Dr Conry and online forums reported on the symposium presentations.
Taking advantage of Dr Conry’s visit and the experts who gathered for the symposium, ABC's Four Corners is preparing a programme on FASD in Australia. It promises to provide a fitting example of how the Institute of Advanced Studies can harness expertise to drive transformation and improve social outcomes.
Audrey Barton (Marketing and Communications Officer, UWA IAS) (+61 8) 6488 4797