Screen for FASD to prevent crime

Editor, The News:

Re: New crime bill good for lawyers (The News, Oct. 7).

I was pleased to read Phil Melnychuk’s report about the federal crime bill.

The concerns expressed by lawyers Gordon Kehler and Rob Gunnell echo my own and I was pleased that your paper was able to provide the opinions of some local experts on this legislation.

I work with a number of people affected by fetal alcohol syndrome disorder (FASD) and their families. Successful FASD people need a family and community support network which keeps them socializing with those who exert a positive influence on their lives.

Since FASD victims lack good judgement, keeping them away from those who would take advantage of them or lead them astray is absolutely critical.

It’s an enormous responsibility, especially when the afflicted person is a teenager looking to fit in. Some FASD people have not had the good luck to be in a supportive family.

Indeed, FASD is sometimes associated with poverty, substance use, neglect, family instability, as well as neglect and abuse. It is not unusual to see sufferers fall between the cracks of the school and foster family systems.

Sadly, several teenagers with the condition have been responsible for some of the most heinous crimes our community has known. These people ended up in prison, where it is unlikely that good role models were available to them.

Aside from preventing this brain injury, which arises when pregnant women drink alcohol, the next best thing is early diagnosis and intervention. Screening for FASD within prison populations would identify those with the disorder so that appropriate supports could be put in place when these people return to their communities.

Supports, whether for school-aged sufferers or those who’ve been in prison, would aim to reduce the impact of FASD on the individuals themselves and their communities.

As a crime prevention strategy, FASD screening strikes me as a method that could be both cost effective and considerably more humane than repeated imprisonment.

Those of us interested in creating a more compassionate approach to people living with FASD might be accused of supporting a “nanny state” by our detractors.  Personally, I prefer that nanny state if it provides my family with a safer and more humane world to live in at a comparable cost.  After all, as we saw last June during the G20, the “police state” is not going to be cheap.

Elizabeth Rosenau

Maple Ridge