Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Gerrard vows to track children with FASD

Would spend $900K to revive provincial registry

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It costs Canadians at least $5.3 billion, affects at least 11,000 Manitobans and clogs jails, welfare rolls and the health-care system.

But fetal alcohol spectrum disorder earned barely a mention on the campaign trail until Wednesday -- Day 25 -- when Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard promised to track and count kids with the disability.

Gerrard pledged $3.9 million to combat FASD, including $900,000 to recreate a provincial FASD registry like the one cancelled in 1993. The registry would provide a real count of Manitobans with FASD and allow doctors, teachers, social workers and foster families to make sure children don't fall through the cracks.

It's not a new idea -- Gerrard has promised it several times in the past.

The Liberal platform also calls for warning labels on alcohol bottles, another idea that's been floating around for years.

Gerrard, flanked by St. James Liberal candidate and Winnipeg police officer Gerard Allard, said the NDP and the Tories "talk a big game" on tackling crime, but have sidestepped action on FASD. Studies in the United States and in Manitoba's jails suggest people with FASD are dramatically more likely to get caught up in crime, largely because their brains lack the ability to gauge cause and effect.

Brenda Bennett, director of FASD Life's Journey that serves Winnipeg adults with the disability, said a registry is a good start, but an even better idea is testing all newborns for alcohol exposure using umbilical cord blood.

She said she's been chagrined to hear politicians talk about crime prevention while failing to mention FASD. Not only do many people with FASD get sucked into crime, they also are more likely to be victims themselves or get victimized while in jail, she said.

She was hoping to hear a commitment to an adult diagnosis clinic. Right now, only children and teens can get an official diagnosis.

In recent years, the NDP has dramatically increased funding for FASD, expanded the diagnosis clinic and created several programs for at-risk mothers. But the party's campaign vision document does not mention the disability and virtually none of the party's election announcements has referenced the issue.

The Tory health platform mentions FASD, but only vaguely, saying "a McFadyen government will begin to address Manitoba's FASD epidemic by implementing strategies to expand research on FASD."

That's a step back from the party's promises during the 2007 election, when the Tories pledged to dedicate two per cent of provincial booze revenue to combating FASD.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 29, 2011 A5

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