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Children's Commissioner calls for FASD prevalence study

Media releases

11 September 2018

The Children’s Commissioner, Judge Andrew Becroft, is calling for a study into the prevalence of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

“We have spectacularly little statistical information about the incidence of FASD and our approach is based on guesstimates.”

“We know, for instance, that those with FASD are significantly and disproportionately reflected in the crime statistics – at least overseas. We don’t know what’s happening in New Zealand because there has been no prevalence study.

“This is a major gap and we’ve got to fix it. Our office is calling for a prevalence study so that we know the extent of the issue in New Zealand.”

September is FASD awareness month and Judge Becroft says the conversation about FASD is long overdue.

“There is a 2015 FASD Action Plan, and to be honest it’s high on plan and low on action.

“We want the best start for all children in New Zealand, and we are not moving towards this goal if we continue to leave FASD out of the conversation.

Judge Becroft says we lag behind many western countries on the issue as “it puts a huge drain on health, education and criminal justice services.

“Kids with FASD are likely to disengage from education, they have greater health needs and they are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system.

“I worry that we may criminalise a cohort of young men in particular whose real issue is a cocktail of neurodevelopmental disorders, of which FASD is one.

“We simply haven’t gotten to grips with the issue.”

One way would be to follow the lead of initiatives like Te Ara Manapou in Hawkes Bay. “It’s dealing with pregnant mothers and mothers in the first 1000 days after birth, particularly those mothers with alcohol and drug dependencies.”

The self-referral rate for that programme is now 31%, grown from 7%. “It’s a programme that uses local resources, local personnel, using central government funding, and it shows how important it is that those services actually connect with women and families who most need help.”

“We need good, wraparound services that families and parents can access and we need good diagnosis, which at the moment is prohibitively expensive.”