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Commissioners Show Leadership On FASD By Invoking Statutory Mandate

Alcohol Healthwatch applauds the Children’s Commissioner, Judge Andrew Becroft, and the Disability Rights Commissioner, Paula Tesoriero (MNZM), for joining forces and invoking their statutory mandate to demand support for individuals and families struggling with the lifelong disability of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

FASD, caused by prenatal alcohol exposure, is entirely preventable. So too are the wide-ranging secondary harms that often arise when FASD remains misunderstood and is denied eligibility for disability support services. The brain damage caused by prenatal alcohol exposure can lead to serious and lifelong harms, including educational failure, elevated rates of substance use problems and addiction, physical and mental health issues, trouble with the law, incarceration, as well as difficulty maintaining stable living arrangements and employment.

With sufficient funding and best practice service delivery, persons with FASD and their whānau can be supported and the secondary harms can be prevented or mitigated.

The Commissioners emphasise that families have an undeniable right to access adequate services and disability support that are accorded to others. They call for urgent access to greater support, at a minimum to Disability Support Services funded by the Ministry of Health, as well increases in FASD diagnostic capacity, training for professionals, and a prevalence study to finally ascertain the scale of, and inequities in, need around FASD.

Whilst New Zealand has a cross-agency FASD Action Plan that sets out some comprehensive and promising strategies, its implementation and progress has remained reliant on contestable funds through the Proceeds of Crime Funding.

"We strongly welcome the Commissioners advocating for the rights of families living with FASD every day. As a society, we need effective policies that address the low price of alcohol, its high availability and ubiquitous marketing. These policies are urgently needed to prevent the serious alcohol harm of FASD. Future generations are counting on us. At the same time, we must provide sufficient and appropriate care for those most affected by alcohol harm, such as FASD", says Executive Director of Alcohol Healthwatch, Dr Nicki Jackson.

"We fully support the Commissioners’ call for a FASD prevalence study. Whilst there are conservative estimates of 1,800 babies born with FASD each year, we have no idea of the scale or prevalence across the population. How can we measure our progress on FASD and equity of outcomes, if we don’t measure it?"

"Without adequate support, the extent of the brain-based disability of FASD will remain misunderstood and misdiagnosed. This can perpetuate the cycle of despair that becomes entrenched and chronic. All this is wholly unnecessary when there are well-guided early interventions - but we can’t achieve this while FASD remains on the margins".

"As the Commissioners rightly state, FASD has been hiding in plain sight for too long. We welcome their strong leadership and commitment to improving the lives of New Zealanders living with FASD and their whānau. All persons with FASD must have an equal opportunity to thrive. This can be a reality with the right support," ends Dr Jackson.

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