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Commission evidence to FASD Inquiry

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice
Ultrasound of baby

The Australian Human Rights Commission is calling for the Australian Government to adopt community led responses informed by targeted investment in research, education, training, diagnosis and treatment to combat Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

The Commission yesterday gave evidence before the Senate Community Affairs References Committee's Inquiry into the effective approaches to prevention, diagnosis and support for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder.

FASD is a diagnostic term for the range of physical, cognitive, behavioural and neurodevelopmental abnormalities which can result from maternal drinking during pregnancy. 

Evidence shows a high prevalence of FASD in children and young people in juvenile detention.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, June Oscar, spoke of the connection between trauma and alcohol consumption by pregnant mothers, which can lead to FASD.

"First Nations peoples suffer ongoing and unresolved trauma across generations due to the impact of colonisation and its ongoing legacies which include the continuation of discriminatory policies and practices," said Commissioner Oscar.

The Commissioner noted that while alcohol consumption in Indigenous women is lower than the general population, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who do drink during pregnancy are more likely to drink at levels which significantly increase the risk of FASD.

"As a result, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have a higher prevalence of FASD than the general population."

Australia's Disability Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Ben Gauntlett, said it is essential adequate resources are widely available to prevent, diagnose and effectively support those with FASD and their families with comprehensive data collection being an essential aspect of any policy response.

"It is vital that governments improve the collection of data about the prevalence of FASD, and data about the availability and effectiveness of services provided to people with FASD." said Dr Gauntlett.

The Commission wants to see community-led approaches to prevention and treatment, rather than top-down approaches such as the imposition of blanket alcohol bans and mandatory income management for entire communities.

"These approaches are grounded in Indigenous knowledge of social and emotional well-being and are holistic, culturally-appropriate and trauma-informed," said Ms Oscar.

The Commission's full submission to the Inquiry can be found here.