Manitoba Government News Release–A new, three-year pilot project will provide fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) assessments and diagnoses to young adults who have come into contact with the law, with the goal of reducing future involvement with the justice system through better access to programs and supports, Justice Minister Cliff Cullen announced today.
“Our government believes improved access to FASD assessments will provide better outcomes for participating young adults, the justice system and our communities,” said Cullen. “An FASD diagnosis can help connect people with more comprehensive supports and resources. This pilot addresses a gap in our approach to FASD as it stands today and ongoing evaluation of the project will help guide our next steps.”
The pilot is modelled after the FASD Justice Program for young adults aged 18 to 25, spearheaded by the Provincial Court of Manitoba, in collaboration with the Manitoba FASD Centre, the Manitoba Adolescent Treatment Centre and Manitoba Justice in 2004. Its goal is to ensure justice-involved youth aged 12 to 17 with FASD receive appropriate judicial dispositions including a multidisciplinary assessment and diagnosis (when required) and improved access to services. Since the program began, there have been more than 1,400 referrals.
The minister noted the initiative will follow the existing model, drawing on the experience of the partnership between the FASD Justice Program, the Manitoba FASD Centre and the Provincial Court of Manitoba.
The province is working to find new ways to reduce the number of repeat offenders by addressing the root causes of crime among individuals with FASD. A diagnosis of FASD enables youth and adults involved with the justice system to appear before FASD court, a specialized court available since 2019, which helps them navigate the court system and connects them with supports.
“People with FASD struggle to understand the consequences of their behaviour, and they often end up involved with the justice system,” said provincial court Judge Mary Kate Harvie, who was involved in creating the program. “Assessment and diagnosis is the first step in helping to connect those with FASD with the additional supports they need.”
The pilot project will receive more than $330,000 in provincial funding, as well as more than $375,000 in in-kind support for staffing, training and other provisions.
Assessment and diagnostic services will be provided by the Rehabilitation Centre for Children, which brings together a multidisciplinary team of experts and currently is responsible for FASD diagnoses and assessments for youth in Manitoba.
“Manitoba has been a leader in providing multidisciplinary FASD diagnostic services to youth involved with the justice system. Using the comprehensive diagnostic assessment information and with the support of the FASD Justice Program, youth with prenatal alcohol exposure have shown significant improvements in their functioning and self-awareness, and their families and community support workers are in a better position to offer appropriate accommodations to meet their complex needs,” said Dr. Ana Hanlon-Dearman, medical director, Manitoba FASD Centre. “This important funding provides much-needed support to extend FASD diagnostic and support service to young adults with prenatal alcohol exposure in the justice system.”
When the pilot project launches in October, its first clients are expected to be young adults currently involved in the criminal justice system who were not able to complete the assessment and diagnosis process before they turned 18. Future referrals will come from the courts, community safety staff, families, other community stakeholders and self-referrals.
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder is a diagnostic term used to describe the impacts of the brain and body to individuals prenatally exposed to alcohol. Individuals with FASD may experience some degree of challenges in their daily living, and need support with motor skills, physical health, learning, memory, attention, communication, emotional regulation and social skills. The Manitoba government invests more than $14 million annually in FASD-related programs and supports.