The Asante Centre will be embarking on a project with the B.C. legal community to improve services and supports to people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, (FASD), who are in the justice system.
The goal of the three year project is not only to help those with FASD, but those with other neurodevelopmental conditions as well. The aim is to be able to identify people who may be living with a fetal alcohol or neurodevelopmental disorders, so legal professionals can make accommodations to their practice to better support those individuals.
A grant of $844,000 was awarded by the Law Foundation of British Columbia that will go, in part, towards updating an existing screening tool for FASD, already used by experts at the Asante Centre to help professionals in the legal system. Help will also be given to legal and justice professionals across the province to become FASD-informed.
Canada FASD Research Network, (CanFASD), is collaborating on the project with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Society for BC – the governing body of the Asante Centre – along with researchers from across the country including: Dr. Kaitlyn McLachlan from the University of Guelph; Dr. Jacqueline Pei from the University of Alberta; and Dr. Mansfield Mela from the University of Saskatchewan.
“We are thrilled to have received this support from The Law Foundation of British Columbia and to have the opportunity to work with such expert research partners,” said Asante Centre executive director, Sharon DeLalla, adding that a project of this scope and magnitude is long overdue in B.C. and across the country.
According to information provided by the Asante Centre, FASD often goes unrecognized or undiagnosed in the legal system. As many as 30 to 60 per cent of people with FASD, seen in clinical contexts, have reported an experience with the criminal justice system. In addition, the prevalence of FASD in correctional and forensic settings is estimated to be as high as 10-23 per cent.
The impact of FASD – on the social, behavioral, and physical functioning of a person – often results in these individuals constantly cycling through the justice system. And, traditional sentences and conditions that they are asked to meet are often not achievable.
Improved supports would lead to better trajectories and outcomes.
“We know that without adequate understanding and support, people often cycle through the justice system which carries significant financial and human cost,” noted DeLalla.
This is a critical first step, she said, towards accessing services both within the justice system and in the community.
“The updated screening and referral tool at the root of this project will be user-friendly, available for broad use by legal professionals, and include tools for immediate practice change,“ she elaborated, adding that they are confident the project will “profoundly” enhance systems serving people with these disorders and will ultimately improve their fair access to justice.
Audrey McFarlane, executive director of the CanFASD Research Network remarked on the strong researchers and partners who, she said, are paving the way towards improved screening and support for FASD, particularly in higher risk environments like the justice system.
“It is encouraging to see professional associations stepping up and showing that they need and value the research being done on this often-overlooked disability,” McFarlane added.
For more information on granting opportunities from the Law Foundation of British Columbia go to lawfoundationbc.org.
For more information about the Asante Centre go to asantecentre.org.
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