Issue Paper: FASD and Child Welfare

We recently release a new issue paper exploring Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and child welfare in Canada. Below is a short summary of this paper.  

Issue

In Canada, individuals with FASD are overrepresented in the child welfare system. Conservative estimates suggest that the prevalence rates for children in care are at minimum 3-11%. This number is expected to be higher because of the lack of formal diagnosis of FASD for children in care. These youth represent a particularly vulnerable population that often experiences a greater rate of poor outcomes, including mental health issues, lower educational attainment, abuse, neglect, unhousing, and drug and alcohol use. 

Social workers and social service providers encounter FASD on a regular basis and must be knowledgeable about this disability in order to improve outcomes. However, limited research suggests that individuals working in this profession do not have a strong understanding of FASD. 

Background 

Children with disabilities are at a greater risk of maltreatment and neglect than children without, and researchers have suggested that children with behavioural disorders, such as FASD, face the greatest risk (i.e., 7 times that of the general population). Children and youth with FASD have specific vulnerabilities that put them at a greater risk for poor outcomes. 

There is no national policy or framework to support children with disabilities in child welfare. The services that are provided are dependent on the policies of each province and territory.  

There are four key areas of focus when discussing FASD and child welfare in Canada: 

Diagnosis 

  • Early FASD diagnosis is a critical first step to support and improve outcomes for individuals with FASD and their families. Social service providers should be familiar with FASD and the Canadian diagnostic guideline in order to effectively screen for this disability as a part of their case assessment; 
  • Children in care with FASD who are placed into stable home environments early on experience better outcomes than those who remain in the child-care system until later in life. 

Intervention and Supports

  • Researchers have shown that child welfare workers and foster parents should use strength-based approaches when working with children with FASD;
  • Supports and interventions should be specifically tailored to the needs of each individual and should take into account their environmental context;
  • The transition out of child-care services and into early adulthood is a time social service workers should work with the individual to develop a life plan moving forward.

Supporting Caregivers

  • Social support for caregivers, particularly from peers, is an essential factor in ensuring families are successful in maintaining placements of children in foster care. 
  • When families are not provided with effective supports it can increase the risk of poor outcomes for individuals with FASD in the child-care system. Effective supports for caregivers include comprehensive information about FASD and financial and emotional support.  

Engagement with Other Systems 

  • There is a clear need for specialized FASD training for caseworkers, foster parents, and individuals in the health care and child welfare systems;
  • Specialized education and resources and systems-level approaches are needed to further support individuals with FASD and their families in child-care. 

Take Home Message
FASD is one of the most critical issues in child welfare, given the high vulnerability and increased prevalence of children with FASD in the child-care system. Social workers and health professionals are in the perfect position to ensure early diagnosis and intervention for children in the child welfare system, but these professionals may not have adequate knowledge and training to do so. A national strategy on FASD and child welfare would benefit each province and territory by providing information on best practices for case management, consultation, and FASD-specific interventions.

For more information, including recommendations, please refer to the full issue paper here.  

Authors: Dorothy Badry & Kelly Harding 

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