Advocates for individuals living with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder say they are delighted that Ontario is following the example of other Canadian provinces by moving toward the creation of a strategy to address the condition.

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne published a letter on Sept. 25 to Tracy MacCharles, Minister of Child and Youth Services, outlining the government's mandate for that ministry. It was part of a larger effort to increase transparency about the expectations that she has for each minister. 

The mandate includes a priority to focus "on developing and implementing strategies that will improve the experience and outcomes for children and youth with complex and special needs, including Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)."

The ministry was not able to provide more details on what a province-wide FASD strategy would look like. 

"Ontario is currently undertaking policy work to inform the development of a comprehensive cross-government approach to a FASD Strategy," the ministry said in a statement.

"We will continue to work with agencies, Aboriginal partners, families and partner ministries to co-ordinate and develop services so that we can help to meet the unique needs of children with FASD."

Other provinces 'way ahead'

Advocates say this is the first time that the provincial government has mentioned FASD in a ministry mandate. 

"This is what we've been hoping for all along," said Mary Cunningham, who became a member of the Ontario advocacy group FASD ONE after her daughter was diagnosed with the disorder. She hopes a provincial strategy will clear up some of the misunderstandings around FASD.

"What people are not realizing just yet is that FASD...is not treatable using current mental health strategies," Cunningham said. "In fact, when we use current mental health strategies on individuals who have FASD, we tend to do more damage."

Other advocates point out that Ontario is one of the only Canadian provinces to not have a FASD strategy. 

"British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and the Yukon are way ahead of us," said Kathy Layte, another member of FASD ONE and the mother of two children who have the disorder. She said the absence of a provincial strategy has prevented people with FASD and their families from receiving proper supports. 

"One of the big difficulties for caregivers of children with FASD is that...you go year to year struggling to find the right services," she said.

Now that the disorder has made it into the mandate of Child and Youth Services, both women hope proper supports will become more readily available. It's now a question of when changes might take hold.