A month ago, CanFASD made a submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health (HESA) to recognize and address FASD for their children’s health study.
What is the HESA?
The HESA studies and reports on all things relating to the mandate, management, and operation of Health Canada.
Their mandate also includes reviewing and reporting on matters other agencies bring up. This includes health-related bills, the budgetary estimates of Health Canada and its associated agencies, study of reports tabled in Parliament that relate to health, and examination of the qualifications and competences of Order in Council appointees.
The Standing Committee on Health may also study things that the committee itself chooses to examine. It holds public meetings to gather information and considers evidence from witnesses. At the end of a study, the committee usually reports on its findings and makes recommendations for how to move forward.
FASD and the Children’s Health Study
HESA is accepting submissions from individuals and organizations for their study on Children’s Health. We submitted a brief to bring attention to the impact FASD has on Canadian children and make recommendations for how to address this disability and support those who are impacted.
In our submission, CanFASD highlighted the fact that FASD impacts 4% of Canadian children, which is more than autism, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome combined. This means that over 300,000 children in Canada have FASD. We also know that this number is even higher in populations with trauma and compromised social determinants of health.
Why should they consider FASD?
FASD is a lifelong disability that impacts the brain and body of someone who was exposed to alcohol during fetal development. People with FASD have areas of both strengths and challenges and will need supports to help them succeed in their daily lives. Children with FASD often have problems with learning, attention, memory, and problem solving, along with poor coordination, impulsiveness, and speech and hearing impairments. As children with FASD grow up, school behaviors, emotional, and social problems often get worse, which exacerbates the mental health challenges they are predisposed to. Early assessment, diagnosis, and intervention are critical protective factors against these adverse outcomes.
Recent studies show, when unsupported, 90% of people with FASD will experience mental health issues. They are over 20 times more likely to face substance use challenges. And 35% of teens with FASD report suicidal ideation, with 13% reporting at least one serious suicide attempt in the past year. Individuals with FASD are also disproportionately represented in the child welfare and criminal justice systems. Early diagnosis and support can lead to positive outcomes.
What were our asks?
CanFASD’s recommendations to HESA were to:
- Fund the creation and implementation of a comprehensive National FASD Strategy, with a scope that includes:
- a trained workforce to detect children at risk of having an FASD through screening and improving diagnostic capacity across the country; and
- evidence-based supports for these children and their families to improve outcomes
- Recognize the unique needs of children with FASD, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on their wellbeing, by providing tailored supports for children with FASD and their families.
Waiting lists for diagnostic assessment are long. Children and families in some provinces and territories were waiting as long as 2 years before the pandemic for a diagnosis. Diagnostic clinics aren’t everywhere, meaning families often have to travel outside their region (or even province) to seek answers and support. Post-pandemic, waitlists will be even longer, with healthcare services that were not available trying to catch up on over 2 years of unserved case load.
Clinicians may be hesitant to undertake FASD assessments in young children as a result of inherent clinical challenges, however, failing to identify children at an early age may limit their developmental potential. An uninformed workforce means that children struggle and often go unidentified and the opportunity for early intervention to optimize outcomes is missed. Training for clinicians and front-line service providers, including social workers and mental health and addictions support workers, to screen for, diagnose and develop plans for interventions and support would begin to address this gap in the FASD system.
Put Children with FASD First
Canada has promised to put children first. This means meeting the growing and urgent demand for timely access to FASD diagnosis so that children and youth do not suffer lifelong consequences as the result of delayed assessments, diagnoses and interventions. It means positioning Canada as a world leader with respect to children’s health and FASD research.
Countries who invest in their children reap tremendous long-term economic and social payoffs. The time has come for Canada to invest in the future, and to invest in the health of all children and youth, including those with FASD. Contact your member of parliament to help us push for a National FASD Strategy to better support kids with FASD.