FASD & the Justice System

Today, Aboriginal children are dramatically over-represented in the child welfare system.   http://www.nccah-ccnsa.ca/docs/fact%20sheets/child%20and%20youth/NCCAH_fs_childwelfare_EN.pdf

Children who are Aboriginal, have FASD and are in care, at least in part reflect a history of intergenerational trauma related to residential schools and the sixties scoop[1].  http://www.ihe.ca/documents/027-Badry.pdf

According to a 2003 study, neglect is the most common form of child maltreatment for Aboriginal children.  Neglect is defined as the failure to provide needed age-appropriate care.  Emerging evidence is showing that structural risks such as poverty, poor housing and substance misuse sourced at a societal level are the key reasons resulting in Aboriginal children experiencing neglect. http://www.nccah-ccnsa.ca/docs/fact%20sheets/child%20and%20youth/NCCAH-fs-UnderstandingNeglect-5EN.pdf

The impacts of colonization and assimilation attempts over the years combined with socio-economic disadvantage are apparent in the intergenerational effects of alcohol in the Aboriginal community.

Since colonization, Aboriginal women have been particularly negatively affected by sexist legislation and policy.  Interference with the exercise of their maternal function came via residential schools and child protection policies. Such devaluation rendered them subject to domestic violence at home and to racism and sexism in the larger community, leaving them traumatized and vulnerable to alcohol abuse and addictions. http://www.justice.gov.sk.ca/justicereform/volume2/12section9.pdf

While it is not inherited, parents of children with FASD often themselves have FASD that compromises their ability to successfully complete court-mandated programs.  Their own histories include early school failure, multiple diagnoses, abuse, neglect, and addictions, and their behavioral symptoms are often viewed as intentional.  Understanding that these parents may also have a problem is useful for a number of reasons. First, it helps clarify family dynamics. Second, identification of FASD at any age reframes problems and expands options for interventions. http://fasdjustice.ca/media/Malbin53_63.pdf

“One way that judges, especially family court judges, can help address this issue is by asking advocates and professionals one simple question: “Did you consider FASD?”  This one simple question will cause advocates and professionals to become more educated on what FASD is as well as to consider what such a diagnosis would have on intervention.”  http://fasdjustice.ca/media/Malbin53_63.pdf

For a series of questions a family court judge can ask to make their own basic determination as to how important it is to consider the possibility of FASD see: http://fasdjustice.ca/media/Malbin53_63.pdf

The finding that neglect is the primary type of child maltreatment experienced by Aboriginal children in Canada calls for a reorientation of child welfare research, policy and practice to develop culturally sensitive and effective responses. Effecting change also calls for a much greater emphasis by child protection authorities on the structural factors contributing to child maltreatment amongst Aboriginal peoples such as poverty, poor housing and parental substance misuse.  http://www.nccah-ccnsa.ca/docs/fact%20sheets/child%20and%20youth/NCCAH-fs-UnderstandingNeglect-5EN.pdf

Developing child welfare policy and responding to FASD within Aboriginal communities requires reflecting on this history, inclusive of socio-economic issues, and being respectful of culture. http://www.ihe.ca/documents/027-Badry.pdf

[1] Refers to a period during the 1960s during which government social service workers were particularly aggressive in removing Aboriginal children from their families and communities and taking them into care. Unfamiliar with extended family child-rearing practices, communal values and cultural practices, social service workers often removed children on the basis of neglect, devastating children’s lives and furthering family and community breakdown.  The best interests of the child with respect to culture and ethnicity were generally not taken into consideration as it was assumed that the child would assimilate via foster/adoptive parents.