Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/3/2010 (4491 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Raymond Crowder was born in 1982 and doomed to die early.
Ray suffered from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder because his biological mother drank heavily during her pregnancy. The booze was passed onto Raymond, still in the womb. She was drunk when he was born. So was he, in fact, as drunk as she was.
Ray's brain was ruined from Day 1.
It's an odd disorder. Researchers, labs and bags of money aren't needed to find the "cure." It's a choice of drinking or not during pregnancy.
It sounds like a simple choice given that choosing booze can mean setting up a child for a life of unnecessary misery. Expensive misery. Each case of FASD means $1.5-million in social expenses. In Canada, it will take $600 billion to deal with the current caseload. And new cases arrive daily.
There are varying degrees of disorder. Facial characteristics readily identify some while others are less obvious. But beneath the surface of most lurks a childlike skill set with brakes that don't work. An older FASD teenager who appears normal often considers consequence -- while joining a gang or stealing a car -- in much the same way as a four-year-old.
The entire social network is touched by this disaster and perhaps none more than the justice system.
Mental illness is a huge drain on police resources and 95 per cent of FASD victims experience mental health issues. The courts will deal with the 70 per cent of FASD sufferers in legal trouble. Half of all FASD-afflicted people will end up in jail.
FASD was at play when three River Heights homes, one beside the next, burned to the ground. The arsonist was sentenced to jail in large part because the judge determined that jail was the only 24/7 structure with the supervision and monitoring needed to protect both offender and community from the disorder.
Structure and supervision is needed day and night, every day, every week, no holidays.
In Winnipeg Val Surbey's son, Christopher, had FASD and needed help that was beyond her abilities. But every time she approached local government departments and social agencies with her pleas "their eyes would glaze over." Surbey knows the extra care is expensive but wonders how a price can be attached to a child's life.
Five years ago I learned about Angela (real name withheld). She lives in the U.S. southwest. Like Surbey, she was able to give the needed structure to her adopted son in the early years, but control was impossible after he turned 13. They battled for school support and got it. But it wasn't enough. Her son, at 18, landed in jail for attacking his dad with a knife.
Last week I caught up with Angela. She and her husband have no contact with their son. He's 23 now and frankly, they don't feel safe around him. They're certain he dabbles in drugs and crime. His IQ is high and despite being brought up in a stable and loving middle-class home (Angela is a social worker and her husband is a chartered accountant) his dangerous, unpredictable qualities prevail. She accepts that "he is doing the best he can with his brain damage from FASD."
What they were able to offer wasn't enough. That's a repeated story and the pressure on families who try is enormous. Angela believes that adopting an FASD child should be accompanied by some background or training in the affliction.
FASD means victimization, too. Surbey's son was just 17, out wandering alone at night with no structure, no supervision and no judgment. He was murdered at 1 a.m., June 6, 2005 in the darkness of a Winnipeg night. With a positive outlook, Surbey told me last week about her other son who had a troubling, early-life, FAS diagnosis. He's in university today.
And what happened to Ray Crowder? His adopted family tried for years but FASD is all about bad and uncontrolled choices. Somehow, at age 21, Ray crossed paths with a man who shot him dead in the street. There was booze on his breath when he died, completing his sad circle of life.
Solutions bounce from thorny suggestions of sterilization to new laws that would make it illegal to drink while pregnant. Other streams of thought call for education accompanied by promises of initiatives, advisory committees, consultations, guides for future action, frameworks, programs, databases, blah, blah blah.
The discussion pits pragmatism against idealism. And the likely result is cynicism because the problem isn't on the radar of enough people. Until it is, there is little reason for hope, especially in First Nations communities that are generally grossly over-represented in the saga.
Frustration looms because prevention is at hand. But here in Manitoba the environment for FASD proliferation remains perfect.
Robert Marshall is a former Winnipeg police officer now working as a security consultant.