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Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

In the Klassen/Kvello case we learned that Saskatoon policeman Brian Dueck and Social Services' contract therapist Carol Bunko-Ruys deliberately manipulated three FASD children to forge a career-building case against innocent people. When we finally broke this story, we heard Justice Minister Eric Cline state that his department had "evolved." The lie was put to this claim as we saw the Justice Department and Social Services scramble to cover up another story in another part of the province where once again, FASD damaged children (Vopni Family) had been manipulated to forge a false case. Sarah Gibb picked up this story and has now been nominated for a National Newspaper Award in investigative journalism for the work she did.

Frank Quennell and Joanne Crofford spoke publicly against Gibb's article.
Read their sorry defence of their cover-up. An injusticebusters' editorial.
-- Sheila Steele, March 27, 2005

FASD prevention misses mothers at risk: researcher

Women at-risk of giving birth to children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) need more support services and a relationship with their children to help overcome their addiction, says a University of Saskatchewan researcher.

Prevention of FASD has focused on advertising the dangers of drinking while pregnant, and physicians' counsel to women to decrease their alcohol consumption, says Caroline Tait.

FASD occurs in children when their mothers drink while pregnant, causing problems with such things as memory, learning, speech, language, attention span and motor skills.

"But prevention measures haven't really targeted the women at-risk of giving birth to children with FASD," Tait said in an interview prior to a public lecture this week at the Frances Morrison library.

These women tend to be in their late 20s to 30s, and may be prone to mental and physical health problems, binge drinking, alcoholism and smoking, she says.

Because they live in poverty, they tend to receive poor nutrition, live in unstable housing and are susceptible to violence.

Getting treatment is frightening for at-risk women, particularly at-risk aboriginal women, she says, because they fear it may mean their children are taken away from them.

"Your option is to put your child with social services while you're in a treatment program. But if you don't complete the program, you may not get your child back."

When this happens, it adds to the mother's stress and her dependence on alcohol, she says. "Give her a relationship with her child, and you can turn so many things around."

Women also lack access to support and help integrating into society after treatment, Tait says. "After 28 days, after she walks out of addiction services, what happens to her?

"It's not a surprise to me . . . that she turns to alcohol to numb her life."

After treatment, women should be able to access mental health services, child care, transition housing, employment and help with family planning, Tait says. She adds greater co-ordination among mental health services, addiction services and health care is needed to provide better care to atrisk women.

The costs to care for children with FASD and to treat women with alcoholism are significant, Tait says, while the cost to extend more support services to at-risk women would be comparatively minimal.

Saskatchewan Health is currently considering treatment centres that are adapted to the specific needs of families, says Linda Restau, director of program support and community care.

The department may reconfigure existing facilities to accommodate families. While current facilities do not offer child care, reworked facilities would provide child care to mothers receiving treatment, says Restau.

Help kids with FAS early: judge Turpel-Lafond

Judge Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond

REGINA (SNN) -- Something must be done to help children with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS), who are falling through the cracks in the social, education and health systems, before they end up in the criminal justice system, says provincial court Judge Turpel-Lafond.

Studies indicate that 60% of young offenders coming into conflict with the law are affected by FAS in varying degrees, Turpel-Lafond told delegates at the Canadian Association for the Practical Study of Law in Education conference in Regina on Monday.

"It is heartbreaking to sit in a courtroom and see a disabled child, who has been left in a chaotic alcoholic family and has led a life of neglect, doesn't have a home, and has been the victim of violence and sexual abuse, at 12 years old come before the court," she said.

On any given day, Turpel-Lafond said, she sees an average of five to 10 children who are affected by FAS in her courtroom, the majority of whom have not been diagnosed. The current rise of FAS can be tied to intergenerational trauma and residential school experiences, the breakdown of families, alcoholism and drug abuse and the lack of parenting skills, she said.

People with fetal alcohol syndrome continue to be over-represented in the courts, and they continue to come before the courts where they are diagnosed for the first time, Turpel-Lafond said. "And these 12 year olds that we are getting diagnosed, the patterns that we are seeing indicates that they may be more severely disabled than the older ones.

"Why are they not being diagnosed until they are 12 and in my courtroom? That is a big issue. Poor attachment by the family to health-care providers is an issue. Poor access to diagnostic services, particularly in the north, is a major, major issue. Poor access to pre-natal health care is a big issue," she said, explaining support needs to be there for pregnant moms and the families of children with FAS.

The literature is very clear that diagnosis under the age of two leads to a better outcome and these young children are less likely to end up in court if they are diagnosed early, Turpel-Lafond said.

The Saskatoon judge said she never set out to publicly speak about FAS, but in her seven years on the bench she was astounded by what she discovered and shocked to learn of the prevalence of FAS in young people going through the criminal justice system and the lack of diagnostic and support services.

"All I know is that on the ground every single day I have kids come before me and there is very little I can do for them. Jail is the main therapeutic environment for them and that is not effective. How can we have a more therapeutic approach that meets their needs, and reduces their risks to the community?"

StarPhoenix freelance writer nominated for national award

A freelance journalist from the StarPhoenix has been nominated for a National Newspaper Award (NNA) for the second consecutive year.

Sarah Gibb is nominated in the investigations category for her March 27, 2004 story on a Saskatchewan family torn apart by allegations of sexual abuse.

"I was astonished when I heard. I couldn't believe it. I feel very honoured," said Gibb in an interview Friday.

Gibb's article focused on a situation very similar to that of the Klassen family, who after being accused of sexual assault by their foster children in the 1990's were eventually cleared of any wrong-doing.

"Sheila Steele from wrote a letter to the StarPhoenix saying that there was another family in the same situation as the Klassens and that sparked my curiousity," said Gibb.

The family in her article adopted four children suffering from Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in 1991. When allegations of sexual abuse by the two adopted girls surfaced in 2001, authorities charged the father and two brothers.

Gibb interviewed FASD experts and found that children who suffer from the disorder will often follow "non-verbal cues" from those who are interviewing them. Gibb reported that the girls' videotaped statement was the only evidence used to charge the father and two brothers.

"There seemed, from the very beginning, to be a determination to bring criminal charges, even though I felt this was not a case where criminal charges were appropriate. The decision seemed to be made on the very first day that the police officers started to investigate, so I felt they had almost set themselves up for a miscarriage of justice," said Gibb.

Gibb is competing in the investigations category against Andrew McIntosh from the National Post for his story into a National Defence employee who allegedly defrauded the government. Fred Vallance-Jones and Steve Buist from the Hamilton Spectator are also nominated for a story about an Ontario program to keep polluting vehicles off the road.

Last year, Gibb was a runner-up in the long features category for a story about a teenage prostitute from Saskatoon who was abused as a child.

The awards will be held June 4 in Ottawa.

Government tardy in releasing FASD strategy

The Saskatchewan Party wants to know why the provincial government has still not unveiled its Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) strategy, eight months after it was due for release.

"They're just putting (FASD sufferers and their families) on the back burner," said Sask. Party MLA June Draude.

Draude, whose bill led to the designation of Sept. 9 as FASD Awareness Day, said the government should be "ashamed" for its lack of action on the issue.

She said there's an urgent need for more diagnostic services. At present, the majority of diagnoses are provided by the staff at Saskatoon's Alvin Buckwold Child Development Program. Staff there are so busy that wait lists have grown to a year in some cases and satellite clinics to other communities have been cut back.

"They are overworked.

"They don't have enough people (to do the needed work)," she said.

Draude said a Saskatchewan Party government would ensure Saskatoon, Regina, and Prince Albert would have fully funded diagnostic centres.

Draude said she's spoken regularly with health-care professionals who express concern over the issue.

Health Minister John Nilson was not available for comment Tuesday.

FASD occurs in children when their mothers drink while pregnant.

The list of disabilities caused are numerous, such as hearing and vision loss, physical abnormalities and learning disabilities.