One in three in WA youth detention suffering Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder

Stock image.
Stock image.

ABOUT a third of young people in youth detention in Western Australia have Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) preliminary data from the Telethon Kids Institute has shown.

Researchers presented the initial data from the Banksia Hill Project at an international conference in Canada last Friday .

The Banksia Hill Project is the first study in Australia to assess and diagnose young people in a youth custodial facility for FASD.

Researchers have spent the past two years assessing over 100 young people – 95 per cent of whom were male – at Canning Vale’s Banksia Hill Detention Centre, the state’s only detention centre for offenders aged 10 to 17 years.

While researchers are only in the preliminary stages of data analysis, early results showed between 30 and 40 per cent of young people assessed have FASD, a neurodevelopmental disorder caused when an unborn child is exposed to alcohol in the womb.

Head of the study Carol Bower said the results were incredibly valuable and would help researchers, government, health professionals and justice workers develop a framework to help these young people.

“These young people have debilitating and life-long neurodevelopmental impairments, which affect their ability to function in society, through no fault of their own,” Professor Bower said.

“Now that we know how big the problem is in young people in detention, we can work towards developing strategies to help them while they are in detention, when they leave, and ideally before they reach detention in the first place.”

Prof Bower said the research, which was funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, would not have been possible without the support of the WA Department of Corrective Services and Department for Child Protection and Family Support.

Department of Corrective Services Deputy Commissioner for youth justice services Rachael Green welcomed the release of preliminary data from the study.

“We recognise many young people in our care at Banksia Hill Detention Centre have complex lives, and for the first time we now have information about the proportion who suffer from FASD and other neurodevelopmental impairments,” she said.

“Impairment like FASD affects a young person’s ability to process instructions or understand the consequences of their actions, which impacts their behaviour and the effectiveness of our youth justice programs.

“This study by the Telethon Kids Institute is invaluable to our work, as it includes the development of training materials to help our youth justice team adopt more effective strategies and techniques for working with young people with FASD and other neurological impairments.

“By understanding young people’s individual strengths and challenges, and knowing the most effective way of working with them, we have a much better chance of reducing their reoffending and supporting them to go on and live productive lives in the community.”