Whitehorse Daily Star

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COMMUNITY EFFORT – Wenda Bradley, executive director of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Spectrum Yukon, says there is a need for a community-wide effort to help people with FASD.

Yukon FASD rates higher than thought

Rates of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in the Yukon criminal justice system are significantly higher than previously thought.

By Pierre Chauvin on April 27, 2016

Rates of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in the Yukon criminal justice system are significantly higher than previously thought.

Preliminary results from a new study conducted in a group of 80 people, either inmates at the Whitehorse Correctional Centre or on probation, found that 17.5 per cent of them had the condition.

That’s a steep difference from the estimated one per cent of people with FASD across the country.

“It’s quite large compared to the general population estimate,” Dr. Kaitlyn McLachlan, the study’s lead investigator, told the Star today. She is an assistant professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont.

But any place with high poverty, mental health issues and addictions will have higher rates, she added.

Previous studies done in federal penitentiaries and among children under the care of the province of British Columbia found a rate of 10 and 23 per cent, respectively.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is caused by mothers drinking during pregnancy.

It impacts brain functioning, which in turn affects a person’s behaviour, from their emotional regulation to their day-to-day conduct.

It can lead to impaired judgment, difficulty understanding the consequences of one’s actions, impulsivity, and poor memory.

For Wenda Bradley, executive director of the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Spectrum Yukon (FASSY), the data aren’t a surprise.

The non-profit offers services for people with FASD.

Bradley expected a rate closer to 34 per cent from her experience dealing with people with the condition who are involved in the criminal justice system.

While the organization could use more resources – it has currently five outreach workers and a waiting list of 20 people – there is a need for a community-wide approach, she said.

Something as simple as going to watch a movie with a person with FASD can make a great difference in that person’s life, she said.

“It doesn’t seem like a big thing, but loneliness is a big factor in people’s lives,” she said.

Bradley says FASSY is working to establish a volunteer program.

A number of people with FASD have now access to supported housing, leaving them with a lot of time on their hands.

“Now that people are housed and lives are stable, this leisure time activity is very evident,” she said.

Having paid outreach workers is simply not sustainable.

“As taxpayers, we’re not gonna be happy if people are paid to watch movies,” she said

Bradley said she will be talking with the Yukon government on how to go forward.

Because only the preliminary results of the FASD study are in, the Yukon government has indicated it’s waiting for the full results to decide on how to proceed.

“After that, the results will be used to inform future program and policy decisions,” Tyler Plaunt, a Department of Justice spokesperson, told the Star today.

The results should be finalized within a year.

Those results will include what type of problems people with FASD in the criminal justice face.

“We know that broadly people with FASD experience high rates of mental health, physical health and substance abuse problems,” said MacLachlan.

“That information will give us knowledge about what to do.”

Meanwhile, Parliament is also looking at how to help people with FASD in the criminal justice system.

Last Feb. 25, Yukon MP Larry Bagnell introduced a bill that would require courts to consider the condition as a mitigating factor.

The same bill was introduced by former Yukon MP Ryan Leef but later withdrawn from the House of Commons as the October 2015 election drew closer.

Judges would be required to add in the probation order that an external support plan for the person’s successful reintegration into society be created.

Courts could also order an assessment to establish a formal diagnosis.

But the Yukon criminal justice system has already taken steps to recognize the effects of FASD on people.

Judges often refer to a 2009 case involving a Pelly Crossing man with FASD.

In that case, Judge Heino Lilles ruled FASD led to a diminished level of moral culpability.

That means that people with FASD should receive diminished sanctions as the Criminal Code calls for sanctions proportional to the degree of responsibility of the offender, the judge said.

Comments (6)

Up 2 Down 1

Noel Roger on May 2, 2016 at 10:31 pm

"one per cent of people with FASD across the country"...!!! anything in the per mil in the general population, let alone one per cent, is a severe epidemic!
I did not know.

Ebola, in Liberia the country most affected in 2014, reached only 2.24 per thousand in comparison - elsewhere 2.2 per ten thousand.

Now, for FASD to heavily stack in representation the most disadvantaged segments of our system is sad, unacceptable, yet a "no-brainer." But none of this will change until we tackle the issue of FASD itself in the first place - and with these rates, along with 20% self-reported heavy drinking Canadians (I had to check), it ought to be tackled with even more vigor than an Ebola outbreak in other parts of the world.

And while a FASD affected individual may not suffer the brutal, horrific demise caused by Ebola, theirs is a whole tortured life of slow silent suffering - and it is one every one hundred of your neighboors lives through - or so I am just finding out.

And that, now in my mind, should every day be the news.

Up 14 Down 3

ross phillips on Apr 29, 2016 at 1:03 pm

What's even more troubling is that we treat our love affair with booze in the Territory like a joke. Every year, the stats come out showing we have a problem with per capita consumption in the Yukon yet people will make light of it on social media, etc. It's nothing to be proud of nor boast about to our southern friends and family.

Up 24 Down 2

ICO on Apr 28, 2016 at 3:41 pm

I worked in Justice the majority among recidivism is the FASD population. A terrible cycle left unmanaged and they will continue to remain incarerated for the rest of their lives.

Up 23 Down 2

Judy Pakozdy on Apr 28, 2016 at 11:27 am

After 40 years of living and working in Yukon, I'm sure the incidence of FASD in Yukon is much higher than described here. And recent research in Alberta determined that the life expectancy for people with FASD is 34 years of age and at least 44% die from external causes like suicide, murder, violence, overdoses of alcohol or drugs, etc.. I'm sure it's similar here.

Up 27 Down 11

jc on Apr 27, 2016 at 5:10 pm

But what they won't tell us is the segment of the citizenry that has the most FASD. This kind of reporting is deceptive and irresponsible and serves no good purpose. Nor does it help to solve the problem.

Up 33 Down 5

Captain Obvious on Apr 27, 2016 at 3:43 pm

What would really help a whole lot would be if women who drink when they are pregnant would stop drinking when they are pregnant.

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