Please enjoy an opinion piece from CanFASD Research Network Executive Director, Audrey McFarlane.
Reconciliation. Advancement. Growth. Progress.
These four words are the section titles for this year’s Federal Budget. Finance Minister Bill Morneau gave a rousing speech in the House of Commons to introduce the ambitious, wide-ranging plan. He concluded by saying:
“We will continue to work hard. To show Canada and the world how good we can be. How fair we can be. And how smart we can be. We will all be better off because of it.”
This is a worthy aim, and certainly a sentiment that Canadians can be proud of. Making us all better off is, when you drill right down to it, one of the most fundamental and critical roles of government. The Government of Canada plans to raise nearly $300 billion this year, and spend even more than that, in the service of making life better for all Canadians.
It’s a bit of a surprise then, that not a cent of that $300+ billion to be spent has been allocated to research, education, or interventions for the 1.3 million Canadians, approximately 4% of our population, who have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).
Three times the number of Canadians have FASD as Autism Spectrum Disorder, yet there is still remarkably little public discussion and urgency on the topic. For 30 years now we have heard about the dangers of alcohol use during pregnancy, yet the sense that something drastic must be done, and the corresponding federal funding, is not forthcoming.
Why is this?
One reason is that there is no national strategy for coordinating Canada’s efforts and response to FASD. The Canada FASD Research Network is a group of researchers who have come together to coordinate research priorities, but there is no group that the government could give money to address FASD.
We also recognize that many families are unable to advocate for their loved ones because of the stigma and shame that continues to surround FASD. We are proud of the families and professionals who are advocating for their loved ones with FASD, but time and time again, the response to their advocacy is long waitlists or an absence of services altogether.
We know a lot about FASD, but there is still work to be done.
We know about FASD prevention and interventions, and we need funding to share this information and develop FASD service delivery best practices. Funding for federally-provided service delivery such as corrections, family supports, and support for Indigenous communities is critical. There is no designated money to serve populations with FASD, and many adults who live with FASD don’t know that they need intervention, or where to get it, so they end up on the margins of society.
There is no treatment that reverses the impacts of FASD, but there are many interventions for people with FASD that support them in living whole and fulfilling lives and reduce the burden that we all bear in court time, incarceration, health care and other costs that can occur when they don’t have necessary supports. Funding is needed to provide this programming across Canada to all Canadians with FASD.
We applaud the Government of Canada for the lofty and inclusive language used in the budget, and we don’t begrudge any other group or policy area for money they received. However, we hope that this government and others recognize the importance of funding for FASD in the service of making all Canadians better off. We remain ever hopeful that together as a country we can allocate sufficient money for research, education, and front-line interventions to support those with FASD and their families.
Executive Director CanFASD Research Network