Parliament: Interesting Speeches

Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

The Hon. K.L. VINCENT: Last year, a House of Representatives standing committee conducted an inquiry into the harmful use of alcohol in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. The committee tabled its report on 25 June last year. The aspect of the report that I wish to focus on today is Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

FASD is the clinical diagnosis of permanent damage to the brain structure and function due to exposure to alcohol in utero. According to the report, it can be diagnosed with or without recognisable features such as changed facial features, growth impairment and other defects. The disabilities associated with FASD include poor impulse control, developmental delay, impaired language and communication skills, and delayed social and emotional development. Sadly, we know that Australian children are born with FASD at some of the highest rates in the world.

The report outlines a number of recommendations to the commonwealth and state governments. Considering our nation’s high rate of FASD, I am concerned that there seems to have been very little done to address this issue; in particular, that a report had been completed by the commonwealth specifically about FASD back in 2012, yet apparently due to a lack of action many of the same report’s recommendations have been repeated just three years later.

One of the main concerns raised in the 2015 report is that, despite the many disabilities associated with FASD, it is not considered a disability in and of itself. Many of those with the condition will struggle to gain access to disability support services and funding from social services, education and training systems, and justice and health-related agencies.

I think that it goes without saying that, unless adequate services are provided, individuals with FASD will be further disadvantaged in our community. Untreated FASD will cost our state much more in the long run. We must invest in children who are suspected of having FASD earlier to ensure that they are given the support they need to reach their true potential.

According to the report, 90 per cent of adults with FASD demonstrate mental health problems, 60 per cent have trouble with the law and a disrupted education, 40 per cent have substance abuse issues, and fewer than 10 per cent of individuals with FASD live or work independently by the time they are 21 years old. There is a lot of money to be saved if we identify and support children and young people with FASD as early as possible.

Recognition of disabilities is not necessarily a statewide issue. However, it is crucial that the South Australian government work alongside the commonwealth government to ensure that this matter is holistically addressed. There is evidence that screening and early intervention for children suspected of having FASD can make a significant difference to their lifelong outcomes, as well as to our economy.

In particular, the report found that children and young people with FASD have specific educational requirements and behaviours which need to be taken into account in educational planning. One of the recommendations calls for states’ and territories’ teacher training, education and in-service support systems to provide information and education about children exposed to alcohol and drugs, and how this may affect their mental health and their achievements at school. This recommendation, in particular, needs to be addressed by our state to ensure that education about FASD is included in teacher training. These are just a couple of the recommendations and concerns that have come out of this report.

I have also recently raised these matters with the Minister for Mental Health and Substance Abuse, and I am waiting for a response. I trust that the state government will take seriously its responsibility to address this issue as a matter of urgency to ensure that people with FASD are provided with the services and supports that they need and deserve, as well as to ensure that the public is further educated on this matter to hopefully prevent the condition in future generations of children.