Manitobans divided over planned FASD screening

Just over half back testing in schools


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OTTAWA and Manitoba are about to test a way to screen schoolchildren for FASD, but Manitobans appear split on the idea.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 06/04/2011 (4320 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA and Manitoba are about to test a way to screen schoolchildren for FASD, but Manitobans appear split on the idea.

According to a poll conducted by Probe Research for the Free Press, about 55 per cent of those surveyed support the idea of testing each school-aged child for possible fetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

Support is remarkably high among aboriginal people, said Probe’s Curtis Brown. About 48 per cent of aboriginal people strongly support a school screening program. That could be because FASD is widely seen as an aboriginal issue, even though it affects all groups.

But many Manitobans are skeptical about school screening. One in five of those polled strongly opposed the idea.

“I think the two biggest objections people might have are the cost and the intrusiveness of doing screening in schools,” said Brown.

With funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada, the province is working with school divisions on a pilot project to screen kids in school for FASD. There’s no word on when the project will start — the province says it’s a sensitive and complex issue and they want to get it right, while experts warn it is vital to avoid wrongly stigmatizing students. The school screening process is expected to involve a questionnaire for teachers that’s designed to highlight students who may have FASD.

“As part of this process, we are working to set up a joint consultation with the developers of the screening tool and school divisions before proceeding any further,” said a government spokesman.

Screening kids — or babies or pregnant women or even chronic young offenders — for FASD is the next frontier in the fight against a brain disability that costs Canadians at least $5.3 billion a year. But so far no adequate methods to screen for FASD have been fully developed and tested. Some FASD advocates have said governments are unwilling to fund research into screening because they don’t really want to know how bad the problem is.

At least one in 100 people has FASD, and that’s likely a lowball estimate. Teachers, doctors, social workers and parents only detect about 10 to 15 per cent of kids and get them to already overwhelmed diagnostic clinics like the FASD Centre in Winnipeg.

The question

Would you personally support or oppose having every child entering school screened for the effects of FASD? Is that strongly or somewhat?

The answer

Strongly support — 29%

Somewhat support — 26%

Strongly oppose — 21%

Somewhat oppose — 18 %

Unsure — 6%

The poll was conducted by Probe Research using a random telephone sample of 1,002 Manitobans between Sept. 16 and Sept. 30, 2010. It is considered accurate within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The series so far

With the help of a research grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Winnipeg Free Press has spent the last several months looking into the FASD epidemic.

In recent weeks, we outlined how a brain affected by alcohol works, introduced you to some people with FASD and revealed what FASD costs Canadians every year — at least $5.3 billion. We’ve also explored how FASD clogs the criminal, school and child-welfare systems, which aren’t set up to deal with the disability. Next we’ll look at what solutions might help.

To read the stories, see videos and interactive elements, visit

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