Manitoba launches FASD pilot program to help young adults get diagnosed

Manitoba is launching a pilot program to help young adults get access to fetal alcohol spectrum disorder assessment and diagnoses, starting with those who have been involved in the criminal justice system but unable to access special supports that require a diagnosis.

“Our government believes improved access to FASD assessments will provide better outcomes for participating young adults, the justice system and our communities,” Justice Minister Cliff Cullen said in a news release Wednesday.

When the three-year pilot program launches in October, it will connect adults age 18-25 with assessment and diagnosis services from the Rehabilitation Centre for Children, including a multidisciplinary team of experts already responsible for FASD diagnoses for youth in Manitoba.

The first clients are expected to be young adults who are involved in the justice system but couldn’t get assessed for FASD before they turned 18, and were therefore shut out of a provincial court serving young offenders with FASD diagnoses.

Until now, only youth under age 18 have been able to get diagnosed with FASD in Manitoba, with few exceptions.

“People with FASD struggle to understand the consequences of their behaviour, and they often end up involved with the justice system,” said provincial court Judge Mary Kate Harvie, who helped create the province’s current FASD Justice Program, in the news release Wednesday.

“Assessment and diagnosis is the first step in helping to connect those with FASD with the additional supports they need.”

‘Much-needed support’

FASD, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, is a diagnosis that describes the impacts on the brain and body of individuals who were exposed to alcohol in the womb. Those impacts range widely between individuals, but can include challenges with motor skills, physical health, learning, memory, attention, communication, emotional regulation and social skills.

The new pilot program is modelled off the province’s existing FASD Justice Program, led by the Provincial Court of Manitoba alongside the Manitoba FASD Centre, the Manitoba Adolescent Treatment Centre and Manitoba Justice, provincial officials say. The program helps connect youths age 12-17 with assessment, diagnosis and support services — and once they’re diagnosed, young offenders can access a special disposition court for people with FASD.

Since that program launched in 2004, it has received more than 1,400 referrals, the province says.

Once the new pilot program has started, future referrals for assessments will come from the courts, community safety staff, families and other community stakeholders. Self-referrals will also be accepted, the province said in the news release.

Manitoba will spend more than $330,000 to support the new pilot program, which will also get more than $375,000 in in-kind support for staffing, training and other provisions, the release says.

“Using the comprehensive diagnostic assessment information and with the support of the FASD Justice Program, youth with prenatal alcohol exposure have shown significant improvements in their functioning and self-awareness, and their families and community support workers are in a better position to offer appropriate accommodations to meet their complex needs,” said Dr. Ana Hanlon-Dearman, medical director of the Manitoba FASD Centre, in the release.

“This important funding provides much-needed support to extend FASD diagnostic and support service to young adults with prenatal alcohol exposure in the justice system.”

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