My adjournment matter is for the Minister for Families and Children in the other place, and the action I seek is that she meet with me and representatives from health, education and early childhood service providers in my community who are very concerned about the lack of treatment interventions for young people suffering from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, also known as FASD.
The purpose of this meeting would be to establish a pilot treatment program for the children who have been diagnosed with this insidious disease.
Many children in my electorate have been diagnosed with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, over a long period of time. Many of these children are clients of the Department of Health and Human Services and are often in out-of-home care. Many of these children grow to cause major disruption in the community as teenagers, and many of them, now adults, are in the prison system.
Four years ago the federal government held a parliamentary inquiry into the condition, acknowledging its increasing — and most likely underestimated — prevalence. Yet on the ground in my electorate we need treatment options and funding to provide therapeutic interventions, not offers for more diagnosis, assessments and research. The recently retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria raised this issue several years ago. She was keen to understand the role of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in prison recidivist populations.
Research has shown that with appropriate interventions you can positively alter the trajectory of these young lives, and so it is time we saw a specialised treatment approach to what is one of the major non-genetic causes of long-term, irreversible brain injury. While there are currently prevention programs to improve the awareness of mothers about the dangers of alcohol to a foetus both before and during pregnancy, we cannot forget about the children who are already facing this challenge.
My community is already taking steps in this direction with key service providers working together to share their knowledge, but we need an action plan. There has been some investment in providing therapy for trauma-affected children at four of our most disadvantaged primary schools, but there are long waiting lists and a number of the children on these waiting lists suffer from FASD. We need funding for targeted therapies to help them understand and manage their disorder. We need a referral network to ensure children who might otherwise be dismissed as ‘troublesome’ are engaged with appropriate services and do not fall through the gaps.
FASD has impacts across the whole of our community, but we know that there are particular issues in our Indigenous community. Shepparton has the highest Indigenous population outside of metropolitan Melbourne. While we have programs such as Cradle to Kindergarten in place to educate and support mothers, fathers and families, we also need a treatment program. If we are to break the cycle of disadvantage in our community, we need to provide these therapeutic interventions to help the children affected and we need to evaluate such interventions so that we can continue to find better solutions to the embedded challenges that young people in our community face on a day-to-day basis.