Tracing the History of FASD in Alberta

Ever wonder why some programs get funded and others don’t? Or why certain messages about FASD catch the public’s interest and other urgent issues are ignored?

History and politics are at the heart of the answers to these questions. I just read Irene Shankar‘s 2011 PhD dissertation Discourses of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in Alberta where Shankar examines how FASD emerged and become recognized as a public health concern in Alberta in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Her research draws upon interviews, archival research, and a review of policy and FASD program documents.

She reveals that FASD came to public attention in Alberta through the efforts of two social workers employed by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services. These two social workers worked with children in government care and they both noticed that some children were particularly hard to care for and, as a result, had a myriad of broken fostercare placements. They went looking for answers at a time when little was understood about FASD. As a result, in Alberta, FASD emerged and came to public attention as an issue of child health and welfare.

“They [elected officials and the public] make more noise about affected kids [than they do about adults] and …the reason that people got [all] excited about … this issue is because we saw hurt children. If it would have started with awareness of birth mothers, we would be nowhere. But we saw hurt children and we thought, ‘that’s bad, what can we do?’ ” (Interview quote, p. 72)

Shankar takes a look at how early understandings of FASD led to the development of certain programs and approaches to addressing FASD. (Some of the programs she discusses include First Steps, Coaching Families, and Step by Step.) She highlights how issues such as the invisibility of adults with FASD, the allocation of responsibility for FASD to women of reproductive age, and the racialization of FASD are remnants of the historical and socio-political discussions that brought FASD to public attention.

You can download Irene Shankar’s 2011 PhD dissertation Discourses of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder in Alberta from the University of Alberta here.

You can learn more about current government-funded FASD programs and services in Alberta by visiting the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Cross Ministry Committee website (the FASD-CMC is comprised of nine provincial government ministries).

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