Children in care with FASD need government help: report

More children are being born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and governments must increase support for the ones who are ending up in foster care, a Manitoba study says.

More and more children are being born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and governments must increase support for the ones who are ending up in foster care, says a study by researchers at theUniversity of Manitoba.

In a new report, obtained by the Canadian Press, the researchers say kids with the disorder are generally taken from their families at a younger age and are more likely to spend the remainder of their youth in care than other foster kids.

That leaves provinces with the task of preparing the children to live on their own as they approach adulthood. That's not easy, because people with FASD — a type of brain damage suffered by a fetus while in its mother's uterus— are developmentally delayed and often impulsive, says one of the report's authors.

"Most people at age 18 aren't ready to go out and be independent, and children with developmental disabilities … need additional support," said Don Fuchs, a professor of social work.

All provinces design their child-welfare programs to provide a safe environment for kids in trouble, says Fuchs. What is sometimes lacking are programs to help those with FASD learn life skills and social skills.

The message echoes earlier calls for change from people like Val Surbey, whose adopted son Chris had FASD. She always maintained that Chris needed 24-hour supervision, but at 17 he was placed in a group home in a rough Winnipeg neighbourhood and was left unsupervised overnight.

He would often get into trouble because he was unable to control his behaviour or understand the consequences of his actions. Two years ago, Chris got into a confrontation at a park, was stabbed and died on the way to hospital.

"He needed to have 24/7 supervision but he was left on his own," Surbey said. "One of the [social] workers figured because he could turn on the stove, make macaroni and sweep the floor, he could live independently."

An earlier report from the same group of researchers estimated that 17 per cent of kids in Manitoba's child welfare system have FASD.

Leading cause of mental disability: FASD

FASD is now believed to be the leading cause of mental disability in Canada. Its victims are often the children of poor mothers who suffer from substance abuse and addiction. The Manitoba government runs public awareness campaigns about the dangers of drinking while pregnant, but it's only a start, says Fuchs.

"If you look at how the smoking cessation [programs] have broadened out, that's the kind of range of interventions that are going to be needed to have an effect," Fuchs said.

The report found there were 1,200 women of childbearing age who were screened for addictions programs in Manitoba in 2005. They were already mothers to a total of 2,500 children.

The report is to be officially presented next weekend at an FASD conference in Winnipeg.