Clinic opens a new front in FASD war

Pregnant addicts targeted It afflicts thousands, costs billions


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An inner-city health clinic is launching a program for pregnant addicts that could help fight fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in a neighbourhood where nearly a quarter of new mothers admit to drinking while pregnant.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/06/2011 (4187 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

An inner-city health clinic is launching a program for pregnant addicts that could help fight fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in a neighbourhood where nearly a quarter of new mothers admit to drinking while pregnant.

Within a year, Main Street’s Mount Carmel Clinic hopes to start what it’s calling the Mothering Program. It will target pregnant addicts with a host of classes and programs, from cooking and parenting to peer support and prenatal care.

Working with other area agencies, the clinic hopes to offer programs every day and most evenings to help pregnant women avoid sliding back into addiction, said Mount Carmel executive director Betty Edel.

MIKE APORIUS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS archives Mount Carmel Clinic�s Betty Edel expects its Mothering Program will draw women from all over the North End.

The clinic is in Point Douglas, where public health statistics from 2006, the most recent available, suggest 24.8 per cent of mothers drank while pregnant, an increase from 2003 figures.

Edel says the Mothering Program will likely draw women from all over the North End, where one agency recently counted at least 40 pregnant women released from drug and alcohol treatment programs, but who needed ongoing support so they wouldn’t backslide.

The province is chipping in $70,000 in annual funding for the program, part of an extra $1 million the Selinger government will spend this year fighting FASD. That brings total spending on FASD to $12.6 million, which covers roughly two dozen initiatives.

Except for the Mount Carmel Clinic project, most of this year’s new funding is going to expand existing programs such as a mentorship program for women at risk of having alcohol-affected babies, a diagnosis network that reaches into rural Manitoba and a court program that sends young criminals with FASD into treatment instead of jail.

“What we do is we start small and seed them, and if they work, we go ‘wham’ and expand them,” said Healthy Living Minister Jim Rondeau.

Critics say the province is sprinkling money without really making a dent in FASD rates.

Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard, a medical doctor with a longtime interest in FASD, said the first thing the province should do is count the number of babies born with FASD every year, which researchers everywhere have long struggled to do.

Experts in Manitoba and elsewhere generally rely on outdated estimates that don’t necessarily identify hot spots or show when programs are working.

Gerrard said the number of women who still report drinking while pregnant suggests years of provincial FASD prevention programs aren’t working.

“If we were seeing fewer kids with FASD coming into the child welfare system, if we were seeing fewer kids with FASD in court… I would love to say that, but there’s no evidence for it.”

FASD affects more people than Down syndrome and autism combined. In Manitoba alone, an estimated 11,000 people live with it, including 2,000 children, and that number is likely too conservative. No one has ever really counted.

It costs Canadians at least $5.3 billion each year just for the health care, education and social service needs of people living with FASD.

FASD is brain damage, just like an injury caused by head trauma in a car crash. Unless you’re familiar with the disability, it can often seem like people with FASD “just don’t get it” or lack basic common sense. They might make the same mistakes again and again or have trouble seeing the consequences of their actions. They might need step-by-step instructions for simple tasks such as doing the dishes. They can have memory and communication problems or trouble sitting still. They can be super-sensitive to touch or light. Everyone with FASD is different because every developing brain copes with alcohol differently.

FASD is virtually invisible and mired in stigma. Diagnosis is tricky, services are spotty, and schools, the courts and the job world are almost perfectly set up for people with FASD to fail.

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