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International FASD Awareness Day

Every year on September 9th, International FASD Awareness Day is observed. 

People all around the world gather for events to raise awareness about the dangers of drinking during pregnancy and the plight of individuals and families who struggle with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).  The first FASDay was celebrated in 1999.  The ninth of September was chosen to remind people on the ninth day of the ninth month of the year, that during the nine months of pregnancy a woman should abstain from alcohol.  

Each year, the VIC FASD SIG is involved in organising awareness raising events and other activties around this day and summaries of past events are provided below.

Written by SIG Chair Kerryn Bagley

This year we held three fantastic events including the VicFAS FASD clinic launch at Monash Children’s Hospital (Congratulations SIG members Katrina Harris, Prue Walker and team), a seminar for child protection workers in Dandenong and a half day awareness day event in Bendigo including keynote by Professor Dorothy Badry from the University of Calgary, presentations by VIC FASD SIG members and a FASD Research Roundtable.  All events were very well attended.

Launch of the VICFAS Clinic at Monash Children's Hospital
Launch of the VICFAS Clinic at Monash Children's Hospital
FASD Awareness Day 2019, Bendigo
FASD Awareness Day 2019, Bendigo

It was particularly pleasing to see so many professionals attending because they wanted to improve their knowledge of FASD. It was also great to have a number of new parents/carers and people with FASD in the audiences. 

We particularly acknowledge the contributions of our keynote speaker at all of the events Professor Dorothy Badry from the Canada FASD Research network (CanFASD) and the University of Calgary.  Professor Badry gave a different keynote speech at each event. It was wonderful hearing about her research on FASD in Canada and her observations and reflections about FASD in Australia.

Summary of the Day

Written by SIG member Sejla Stammers

The short presentations in the morning were from Kerryn Bagley (overview of FASD), Jane Halliday (how common is FASD?), Evi Muggli (Victorian research), Kim Cowan (Goulbourn Valley Health FASD diagnostic clinic), Robyn Smith (NOFASD) and Prue Walker (FASD resources).

The keynote lunchtime speaker was Doug Shelton, Director of Women’s, Newborn’s and Children’s Division, Gold Coast Health. He spoke about why diagnosis is important, highlighting:

“…it can change the way that a child is treated generally and the kind of contact they have with society…” and “…diagnosis is beneficial for parents and carers in terms of understanding what is going on for their child(ren).”

A panel discussion followed his talk with an important contribution from Anne Russel, Founder of Russell Family Fetal Alcohol Disorders Association who provided an overview of the Association, including the benefits of having like-minded support from an organisation that has a solid history in FASD and a focus on partnerships. Themes coming out of the panel discussion and from audience questions were that a) FASD diagnosis itself provided “unbelievable relief”, b) “when you know better, you do better”, c) diagnosis provides a roadmap to long term ongoing journey for treatment and management and d) it is most often impossible to distinguish and disentangle trauma and FASD signs, and sometimes you don’t need to. FASD doesn’t go away but trauma might change and shift.  

The afternoon included four breakout sessions, with about 50 participants in each. These included:

  • Workshop 1: Embedding FASD diagnosis in a broad neurodevelopmental assessment for children: a workshop for paediatricians, psychologists/neuropsychologists and other health providers.
  • Workshop 2: A practical approach to recognising and responding to FASD for Child Protection, Out-of-home Care, Youth Services and Youth Justice.
  • Workshop 3: FASD across the lifespan: how does FASD present and how can families, carers and the service system respond?
  • Workshop 4: Parents and Carers Workshop with Anne Russell.

The day was considered an overall success, with significant positive feedback, including the below reflection about the morning session:

“…this was an excellent opportunity for various practitioners to hear from experts on diagnosis. Two parents attended this workshop and co-facilitated as well, which provided participants with an opportunity to ask targeted questions.”

Picture (L – R): Evi Muggli, Kate Gray, Sejla Stammers, Doug Shelton, Prue Walker, Kerryn Bagley, Jane Halliday, Kellie Hammerstein, Katrina Harris.