Researcher to study Canada’s success in preventing fetal alcohol spectrum disorder

It takes a village to raise a child and an entire community to support pregnant women to grow healthy babies, says one University of Queensland researcher.

Associate Professor Deborah Askew’s newly awarded Churchill Fellowship will allow her to learn from urban First Nations communities in Canada and Alaska about how they have successfully reduced rates of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

Dr Askew said FASD prevention strategies needed culturally appropriate and community-focused solutions.

“It is easy to blame the victim in all spheres of life,” she said.

“With FASD, it’s too easy to say that it is the woman’s fault and she shouldn’t be drinking alcohol.

“That’s part of the issue, but in reality, all of society is responsible for raising healthy children.”

Dr Askew said the Fellowship would allow her to bring back to Australia knowledge of successful programs that are working in Canadian and Alaskan First Nations urban communities, rather than having to start a new program from the ground up.

“A lot more work could be done in Australia,” she said. “FASD is not specific to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, but the hurt and trauma associated with the ongoing negative impact of colonisation, discrimination and racism means that some people use alcohol to dull the pain.

“And where there is a lot of alcohol, FASD will be there too.

“Some amazing community-led programs have been established in Western Australia’s Kimberley region, but there are few programs in urban areas that have been published so that others can learn from them.”

First Nations totem against an autumn treeDr Askew said Canada had recognised the link between the Indian Residential School system, intergenerational trauma and the array of social ills plaguing the First Nations today, including fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

“This echoes Australian policies that similarly took Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children away from their parents – the Stolen Generations. .

“For some, there is an overuse of alcohol to dull the pain of grief, hurt and trauma that has been passed down through generations, in addition to everyday lived experiences of socio-political discrimination and disadvantage.

“Now there is a government policy in Canada, in addition to the strategies employed by individual communities to promote substance-free pregnancy.

“We hope to learn from urban First Nations communities’ FASD prevention programs and bring these approaches back home to trial in urban Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.”

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