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A report by the Telethon Institute for Child Health Research on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) in the West Australian (WA) justice system recommends further training and education to raise awareness of FASD and alternate sentencing options that consider the neurocognitive impairments associated with FASD.
The report, Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder: knowledge, attitudes and practice within the Western Australian justice system has found that up to 85% of staff surveyed, identify responding to the needs of people with FASD as an issue in their work.
Funded by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), the report aimed to assess justice professional's awareness and knowledge of FASD and assess the perceived impact of FASD on practice within the WA justice system.
FASD is caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol. The disorder is associated with a range of learning, developmental and behavioural problems including: problems with memory, the inability to complete complex tasks that involve planning and judgement, difficulty self-managing behaviour, and problems with social interaction.
Knowledge about FASD was highest among Department of Corrective Services staff, of whom 44% reported to have a good understanding of how FASD affects children and adults.
72% of all participants indicated a need for more information about FASD, including how to improve the identification of individuals in need of specialist assessment and guidelines on how to respond to people with FASD.
Lead investigator, Dr Raewyn Mutch says there was widespread agreement that the assessment and diagnosis of FASD would improve the possibilities for young people with FASD and would prevent their continued engagement with the justice system over time.
‘There is general acknowledgement that a disproportionate number of youths and adults with a FASD are engaged in the Australian justice system. This report supports the Western Australian justice system to more effectively consider and manage those individuals with a FASD, with the hope of preventing their repeat and continued engagement with the law,' Dr Mutch said.
Dr Mutch praised the members of the WA justice system, judges, magistrates, registrars, lawyers, corrective services staff and police officers who took part in the survey and contributed to the report.
‘It's very important to stress that the gaps identified in this research are not peculiar to Western Australia. They have been identified in Queensland and exist across state boundaries and over a range of health and social services. The purpose of this research is not to condemn, but rather to identify opportunities to ensure that the justice system can better accommodate people with a FASD," Dr Mutch said.
Source: Telethon Institute for Child Health Research and Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder: knowledge, attitudes and practice within the Western Australian justice system
Dr Raewyn Mutch
Telethon Institute for Child Health Research
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Mobile: 0409 988 530
Foundation for Alcohol Research & Education
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