FASD Prevention with Indigenous Communities in Australia

2nd in Series: First-ever FASD Prevention Plenary at the 7th International Conference on FASD: PART 1

“Evidence for multi-faceted, culturally relevant, community-led approaches” – Dr. James Fitzpatrick, Head, and Kaashifah Bruce, Program Manager of Telethon Kids Institute’s FASD Research; June Councillor, CEO of Wirraka Maya Aboriginal Health Services; Anne Russell, Russell Family Fetal Alcohol Disorders Association

Making FASD History newsletter

The “Make FASD History in the Pilbara” program in Western Australia is the result of community-led and culturally relevant efforts within Indigenous communities dealing with the effects of long-term colonization and FASD. It was developed in collaboration and partnership with communities in the Fitzroy Valley and provides strategies and programs to assess and diagnose FASD, as well as to provide health, educational, and management supports to mothers and children.

James Fitzpatrick described earlier successes that underpin this program – like the Lilliwan prevalence project, the PATCHES program to diagnose FASD, and the Marlu Strategy for prevention and intervention (See Video). Dr. Fitzpatrick was nominated in 2016 for the WA Australian of the Year award for his work on FASD.

June Councillor explained the role of the “’Warajanga Marnti Warrarnja” Project – translation Together We Walk This Country – in the strategy and its long-term approach. She featured a video of the project in her remarks. View the program launch Video here.

Kaashifah Bruce presented evaluation results of using this multi-pronged approach that show an increase in: 1) awareness of FASD and the harms caused by drinking in pregnancy; 2) intentions to NOT drink during future pregnancies; and, 3) intentions to help pregnant women not to drink. The encouraging results suggest that this community-led, multi-strategy approach can serve as a blueprint for success in other Aboriginal communities.

LtoR: June Councillor, Anne Russell, Kaashifah Bruce, and James Kirkpatrick


Finally, Anne Russell provided a lived-experience viewpoint with examples of how stigma and stereotyping impede prevention efforts. By describing her own as well as other women’s experiences, she underscored how important it is to avoid stereotypes about women and drinking, and to talk with women and communities about what they need and what is important to them.

For more on FASD prevention in Western Australia, see earlier posts:

Alcohol Think Again Campaign in Western Australia (June 19, 2012)

Films from the Lililwan Project: Tristan and Marulu (May 9, 2012)

FASD Campaign from Kimberley and Pilbara Regions of Western Australia (October 22, 2012)

FASD Prevention in Australia’s Ord Valley (October 13, 2011)

Targeting Health Professionals in Western Australia (February 9, 2011)

Getting Fathers Involved (January 4, 2011)

More Activism from Australia (October 19, 2011)

Yajilarra: the story of the women of Fitzroy Crossing (October 15, 2010)

FASD Initiatives in Western Australia (September 15, 2010)

FASD Awareness Day 2016: Focus on Social Media

Since 1999, FASD activists have held World FASD Awareness Day events on 09/09 to represent the nine months of pregnancy, often highlighted with a bell ringing ceremony at 9:09 am. September 9, 2016 is approaching, and this year activists want to use social media because it provides a unique and far-reaching means of building awareness.

You can help build FASD awareness by posting a message, reposting theirs, or bringing attention to their events on your own social media accounts.

FASD Awareness Day Share with CanFASD


This year Canada Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Research Network (CanFASD) is providing an online forum for organizations to post their initiatives on the CanFASD website. Include a description and a picture or video and they will re-post and Tweet it out to all of their followers. You can post using #FASDAwarenessDay #CanFASD and win prizes.

The Executive Director of CanFASD , Audrey McFarlane says “ CanFASD is very pleased to be able to highlight the fantastic work that the local communities are doing to raise awareness of FASD on September 9 as the local FASD service providers and caregivers are the hardworking folks that manage this work everyday.”

United States

NOFAS US has developed a FASD Awareness Day Packet for 2016 to assist organizations with planning activities for the month of September – FASD Awareness Month.

Their social media campaign includes:

  • A Twitter Chat using the hashtag #FASDMonth as well as offering tweets you can use to send out to others.
  • A one-time message commemorating FASD Awareness Day can be posted to your social media accounts using ThunderClap – a crowd-speaking platform using social media. Learn more here.
  • A campaign to create a video that will feature an inflatable globe being “passed” around the world. Click here to learn more about the campaign.

New Zealand

The University of Auckland is hosting a FASD Policy and Research Forum starting at 9 a.m. on FASD Awareness Day. Find out more here. To find more information, links, and downloads from New Zealand, visit the Fetal Alcohol Network NZ and the Ako Aotearoa learning website for the Pregnancy and Alcohol Cessation Toolkit for providers.


NOFAS Australia is encouraging people to take a pledge not drink on Sept 9 and to post it on social media as a way to spread the word about FASD.

Also on the Pregnancy Birth & Baby website, there is a call to join the Pregnant Pause Campaign for FASD Awareness Day.

United Kingdom

The FASD Trust is asking people to get involved in a number of ways – raising awareness in school using the Trust’s School Pack, writing their MP. Click here to see their efforts.

To learn more about the history of FASD Awareness Day and get more ideas for events, click on FASD Awareness Day website.

Is your group, organization, or country planning a FASD Awareness Day event? Please share them in the Comments section below.

Previous postings about FASD Awareness Day

Today is International FASD Awareness Day, September 9, 2015

Today is International FASD Awareness Day, September 9, 2014

“Supporting pregnant women who use alcohol or other drugs: A guide for primary health care professionals”


This new resource from the National Drug & Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Australia, is designed for all primary health care professions who see women in a broad range of health care service settings during the course of their practice.

The best practices guide builds on the evidence for providing coordinated, supportive and comprehensive care to pregnant women who use substances by providing a model for reducing the harm from alcohol and substance for women and their babies. See page 12 of this guide for a clearly charted overview of how physicians and other health care practitioners can support withdrawal, do psycho-social and nutritional interventions, and address barriers to care for pregnant women.

The model acknowledges the interconnections that impact a woman’s use of substances during pregnancy – including domestic violence, mental health, smoking, and stigma – and provides a guide for identifying risk and next steps for further assessment, support and/or treatment. See page 9 for a view of how identification differs for women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy, or not planning a pregnancy.

It also moves beyond normal referral and coordination practices by using a holistic assessment process and designating a case coordinator or clinical lead to ensure “assertive follow-up.” Assertive follow-up consists of: making sure women are supported during pregnancy and birth; keeping mothers and their babies in the hospital so that post-birth assessments for mother and child can be done and plans for support and services are in place; providing breastfeeding, safe sleeping, parenting skills and contraception support; as well as, interfacing with partners, family members, and community agencies in support of the woman and her child.  See page 16 for more discussion on assertive follow-up and pages 19-20 for “Addressing barriers to care”.

Although the extensive resources that are included in this guide are geared for practitioners in Australia, many of them provide topic-specific information that practitioners everywhere may find helpful. See pages 24-27 for website links.

For more on screening in primary care settings, see previous posts:

For more on FASD prevention in Australia, see previous posts:





FASD Prevention in Australia


Elizabeth Elliott recently wrote a short article describing current FASD prevention efforts in Australia for the journal Public Health Research and Practice (available here).

Increasing awareness and understanding of FASD has resulted in a number of positive developments at a national level, including a federal parliamentary inquiry into FASD (2011), the development of an Australian Government action plan to prevent FASD (2013) and the announcement of government funding to progress the plan and appoint a National FASD Technical Network (June 2014).

Some of the earliest FASD prevention activities in Australia were led by indigenous communities. In 2007, a group of Aboriginal women from Fitzroy Crossing in remote northern Western Australia led a campaign to place a ban on the sale of full strength alcohol in their community.

This led to the Lililwan Project, the first ever prevalence study of FASD in Australia and a partnership between Nindilingarri Cultural Health Services, Marninwarntikura Woman’s Resource Centre, the George Institute for Global Health and the Discipline of Paediatrics and Child Health at The University of Sydney Medical School.

This ‘research in action’ project included diagnosis and development of individualised management plans to address the health issues of each child. Earlier this year, the researchers reported that one in eight (or 120 per 1000) children born in 2002 or 2003 in the Fitzroy Valley have FAS.

In 2009, the National Health and Medical Research Council revised the guidelines regarding alcohol use in pregnancy to state “For women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, not drinking is the safest option.”


In 2014, the Women Want to Know project was launched. Developed by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) in collaboration with leading health professional bodies across Australia and with support from the Australian Government Department of Health, the project encourages health professionals to routinely discuss alcohol and pregnancy with women in keeping with the revised guidelines.

FARE also launched the Pregnant Pause campaign in 2013 to encourage ‘dads-to-be’ and all Australians to support someone they care about through their pregnancy by taking a break from alcohol.

November 2013 also marked the first Australasian Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Conference  held in Brisbane.

Organizations such as the National Organisation for FASD Australia have taken a leadership role in education and advocacy related to FASD, including advocating for pregnancy warning labels on alcohol.


Drinkwise, an alcohol industry-funded organization, has voluntarily developed ‘consumer information messages’ such as ‘It is safest not to drink while pregnant’ and ‘Kids and Alcohol Don’t Mix.’ However, an audit found that 26% of products carried a DrinkWise alcohol pregnancy warning label. (Visit Drink Tank for a discussion of alcohol industry led product labeling in Australia).

For more on FASD prevention in Australia, see earlier posts:

“Women Want To Know” Campaign for Health Professionals from Australia

The Women Want to Know project encourages health professionals to routinely discuss alcohol and pregnancy with women and to provide advice that is consistent with the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol. This is the first national campaign targeted at health professionals since the Alcohol Guidelines were last updated in 2009.

A survey of 300 health professionals conducted prior to the project  found that one in five health professionals had not heard of the Guidelines and more than two in five (45%) were aware of the Guidelines but not familiar with the content.

The guidelines state that  ‘Maternal alcohol consumption can harm the developing fetus or breastfeeding baby’ and ‘For woman who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, not drinking is the safest option’ and ‘For women who are breastfeeding, not drinking is the safest option’.

Research has also shown that 97 per cent of Australian women want to be asked about alcohol use during pregnancy.

The Women Want to Know project was developed by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) in collaboration with leading health professional bodies across Australia and is supported by funding from the Australian Government Department of Health.

There are two main components to the project: (1) resources to support health professionals in discussing alcohol use and pregnancy with women, and (2) accredited training.

Resources from the Women Want to Know project include:

In addition three online e-Learning courses with Continuing Professional Development accreditation are available for health professionals through the:

Read the press release from the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education here. Learn more about the project and recently developed resources here.


Pregnant Pause Campaign for Aussie Dads

The campaign slogan is “Man up, drinks down”

Pregnant Pause Home

Launched last week, the Pregnant Pause campaign is challenging ‘dads-to-be’ and all Australians to support someone they care about through their pregnancy by taking a break from alcohol.

By pledging to take a break for a month, three months or the entire pregnancy, Pregnant Pausers are raising money for those affected by FASD.


On the campaign website, the importance of supporting women in having a healthy pregnancy is discussed:

“Most likely, she’s planning on giving up drinking for the duration of the pregnancy to ensure she has the healthiest baby possible. Sometimes, peer pressure adds up – half a glass of red and a bath after a hard day at work, champagne at a birthday party, it’s hard to get away from.

It’s at those times, even when we’re talking half a glass, you can help out.

Like getting fit, changing your diet or moving house, life is so much easier when you have support.

You can help your baby and your loved one by going off the grog together.”

The campaign is making use of social media like Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and has soon‐to‐be parents, Olympic swimmer, Elka Graham, and her husband, Olympic water polo champion, Tom Whalan as ambassadors.


The goal of the campaign is to have 500 Australians ‘take a pause.’ See the press release here.

The campaign is sponsored by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), an independent charitable organisation working to prevent the harmful use of alcohol in Australia. FARE is one of the organizers for the first Australasian Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Conference  scheduled to take place on November 19-20, 2013 in Brisbane.

For more on this topic, see earlier posts:


Last Call for Abstracts for the Australasian FASD Conference


The Australasian Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Conference is scheduled to take place on November 19-20, 2013 in Brisbane. The call for abstracts will close on 21 June 2013.

This conference aims to share knowledge about FASD and bring people together from around the region to exchange ideas, practice, research and policy discourse.

The conference is being organized by the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) and the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) in association with in association with the National Organisation for Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Related Disorders (NOFASARD), the Russell Family Fetal Alcohol Disorders Association (RFFADA), Telethon Institute for Child Health Research, University of Sydney, Alcohol HealthWatch New Zealand and the University of Queensland.

Check out the preliminary program here.

Handbook for Aboriginal Alcohol and Drug Work from Australia

Handbook Cover

“The Handbook for Aboriginal Alcohol and Drug Work is a practical tool written for Aboriginal drug and alcohol workers, mental health workers and others working in this field. It offers a detailed look at alcohol and drug work from clinical, through to prevention, early intervention and harm reduction. This handbook is also likely to help people working to improve policy and those advocating for change.

The idea for it came from workers all over Australia. They told us that they needed an easy to use handbook that can help them respond to the range of alcohol and drug issues they face every day. They also told us that such a book needs to take into account the complex challenges facing workers when helping clients, their families and, sometimes, whole communities.”

This plain language, evidence-based guide was created in partnership between the University of Sydney and Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal agencies and health professionals. Four of the six editors are Aboriginal.

It covers alcohol and drug use as well as a whole range of other issues, including child protection notifications, legal issues, working with clients without housing, mental health and polydrug use, and community-wide approaches.

Chapter 2 focuses on alcohol and Chapter 16 focuses on Special situations, settings, and groups, including pregnancy, breastfeeding and early childhood. It discusses the use of brief intervention and counselling approaches in the context of alcohol and pregnancy. It also has sections covering Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome, Alcohol use in pregnancy and Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders.

The handbook was first distributed to alcohol and drug professionals from around Australia at the National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Conference in Western Australia in June 2012.

The project started in 2010 with a grant from the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) and continued with the support of the NSW Ministry of Health.

The handbook is available online.

FASD Campaign from Kimberley and Pilbara regions of Western Australia

This recent media campaign from Western Australia uses a peer-to-peer approach, “a call to action from women, to women” to raise awareness of people affected by FASD and the impact it has on their lives.

The campaign was developed by Goolari Media, a fully owned Indigenous company, and includes a TV ad which has been broadcast on Goolari’s digital service throughout Broome, a radio advertisement broadcast in the immediate Broome area and throughout regional and remote communities in the Pilbara and Kimberley regions, and the distribution of the ad on DVD to regional health professionals.

This is an example of a targeted public education campaign which focuses on indigenous women in a particular region of Western Australia. The ad is intended to be supportive and encouraging, with women speaking directly to other women.

The ad says:

“Drinking grog during pregnancy is very dangerous for your unborn baby. We all have responsibility to give the best possible start to a baby’s life. Even small amounts of alcohol can cause major health problems that can last a lifetime…..So, if you’re pregnant, you just don’t charge up. When it comes to pregnancy, let’s help each other and say no to grog.”

The press release (July 10, 2012) from the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education describes the advertisement:

“The single fluid TV and radio advertisements incorporate the voices and images of 16 women against a neutral background. The different ages, skin colours, and array of Indigenous faces and voices reflect the diversity and vastness of the Kimberley and Pilbara regions of today.”

The project has been funded with a grant of $19,720 (AUS) from the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE), and was one of 17 grants awarded to community organisations throughout Australia as part of the 2011 Community Education and Engagement Grant Funding Round.

For more on FASD prevention in Western Australia, see earlier posts:

Debates about ending alcohol bans in Aboriginal communities in Queensland, Australia

There have been recent debates about lifting alcohol bans in Aboriginal communities in Queensland, Australia. The governments in Queensland and Northern Territories have proposed to lift “grog bans” based on the idea that Aborigines should have the same rights as all Australians, including the right to drink.

This news clip interviews indigenous academic, Marcia Langton, who says the evidence supports keeping restrictions in place. “The fact of the matter is is that all Australians are subject to alcohol restrictions in one form or another. We can’t go and buy alcohol at any time of the day or night. There are restrictions on hours. There are restrictions everywhere in Australia now on drinking in public places and specified places. So, it is not true that Aborigines are the only people who are subject to restrictions on alcohol.”

For more on the history of alcohol bans in Queensland, check out this news article Bans on alcohol spawn generation of lucky children (The Australian, October 13, 2012).

For more on local alcohol policies and FASD prevention, see earlier posts: