FASD

Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

In the wrong setting, bad goes to worse

Even an early diagnosis no guarantee of best care

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He was born with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder and at two months old, became a permanent ward of the province.

Until he was 10 he lived in a stable foster home, went to school and did as well as might be expected of a child with brain damage.

Everything in his file pointed to that being the absolute worst place to put him.

He has difficulty in large groups. He cannot handle physical touching. He has extreme trouble reining in his emotions. Change of any sort can send him off the deep end.

Within 24 hours, the police were called and the boy was charged with his first offences: two counts of assault with a weapon and one of uttering threats. Within six months, he went from having no charges to 20.

That is how he came to the attention of Legal Aid Manitoba lawyer Corey La Berge.

"I was at the Manitoba Youth Centre and this kid comes in. He's small. He doesn't look his age. He has trouble concentrating. Everything was telling me this kid was impaired by FASD."

The boy cannot be named because he is a youth in care, but La Berge lays out his story as an example of how the systems we have don't accommodate kids whose brains just don't work the way we expect them to.

"This child did not have the capacity to behave in (the group home)," said La Berge. "He should not have been placed there. Anybody looking at his history in terms of knowledge about his disability, school records, behaviours in the past, anyone would know that plugging this kid into that environment was going to result in these behaviours."

He swore at staff and kicked other kids. He tampered with smoke detectors and was charged with mischief.

"He knows it's wrong, but he doesn't have the ability to self-regulate," said La Berge. "He's just acting disabled."

His multiple charges for assault with a weapon including poking another child from the group home in the arm with a screw and swinging a hoodie at a group-home worker who was smacked by its zipper.

Fortunately for the boy, after about six months, he ended up in the courtroom of a judge who knew FASD inside and out. The judge was livid and demanded a meeting with everyone she could think of, the children's advocate, the director of the child welfare agency, the kid's caseworker, you name it.

And she wouldn't accept the excuse that they had nowhere to put him.

La Berge said one of the saddest aspects of the story is that this child had been diagnosed with FASD. He had a case management plan and a file which listed his disabilities.

None of that mattered.

"It sadly points to, even with (a diagnosis), how difficult it is for these kids," said La Berge.

Upon the judge's insistence, the boy was placed back in a more suitable foster home. In more than a year since, he has done a lot better, La Berge said. Not single additional criminal charge.

"He's been doing better," said La Berge. "It's a good example of why we need to recognize when a young person has a disability and put into place an appropriate care management plan to care for them."

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 12, 2011 J5

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