“FASD Awareness” – what does that mean?

September 9th will mark almost two decades since the first FASD Awareness Day. Communities and organizations around the world are planning events and media campaigns to raise awareness. But what does “FASD awareness” actually mean? The answer is that FASD awareness is multi-layered.

It means AWARENESS that Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is a disability caused by prenatal alcohol exposure and has a range of effects that are lifelong and varied.

It means AWARENESS that for women, alcohol consumption has particular risks.

It means AWARENESS that there is no known safe amount of alcohol consumption or safe time to drink during pregnancy and while breastfeeding. Without knowing how much or how little alcohol can cause FASD, there is always a risk.

It means AWARENESS that there are many reasons why a woman might drink during pregnancy and that women deserve information and support, not blame and stigma.

It means AWARENESS that FASD is a primary disability that affects individuals differently and can lead to secondary disabilities, particularly if undiagnosed.

It means AWARENESS that people living with FASD have both strengths and challenges, and they and their caregivers deserve and benefit from respect, support and resources.

It means AWARENESS that there are ways for everyone to take part in prevention and intervention efforts.

It means AWARENESS that research continues and there is hope.

Share your photos and videos with CanFASD on social media to raise awareness about FASD! Use #FASDAwarenessDay #CanFASD to WIN Great Prizes! On Facebook and Twitter @CanFASD

Indigenous Approaches to FASD Prevention – A response to TRC Call-to-Action #33


Brief Interventions
Indigenous Mothering
Community Action

Reconciliation & Healing
Five new booklets on Indigenous Approaches to FASD Prevention have just been published. They were developed  following the Dialogue to Action on Prevention of FASD meeting in May 2017, and reflect the 8 tenets of the Consensus Statement created by participants for enacting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Call-to-Action #33:

“We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments to recognize as a high priority the need to address and prevent Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), and to develop, in collaboration with Aboriginal people, FASD preventive programs that can be delivered in a culturally appropriate manner.” – Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

The booklets were written by Tasnim Nathoo and Nancy Poole of the Centre of Excellence for Women’s Health in collaboration with the Thunderbird Partnership Foundation, and Canada FASD Research Network. Topics include: Brief Interventions with Girls and Women, Mothering, Wellness, Community Action, and Reconciliation and Healing. Printed booklets are being shared with those who attended the meeting in May and with Indigenous communities who may find them helpful as they plan FASD prevention efforts. Links to PDF versions are included in this blog.

Grounded in research, the booklets prioritize Indigenous knowledge for implementing culturally-safe, cross-disciplinary, cross-organizational, and collaborative approaches to FASD prevention. As well, each booklet offers discussion questions that shift the lens from a primary focus on alcohol use during pregnancy, to a holistic focus that aligns with Indigenous values and worldviews to support change and transformation in all systems of care.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) provided a process for discovering the harms and injustices that Aboriginal people experienced as part of the Indian Residential School system with an aim to build a lasting and respectful foundation of reconciliation across Canada. TRC findings were released in 2015 along with 94 Calls-To-Action (CTA), including CTA #33, which focuses on FASD prevention.


See earlier posts on these topics:





September 1, 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

Power for the Future: The Role of Native American Women in FASD Prevention

'First Peoples Worldwide

First Peoples Worldwide is an international organization dedicated to promoting Indigenous economic determination and strengthening Indigenous communities through asset control and the dissemination of knowledge. Britnae Purdy recently wrote an article on the organization’s blog called “Alcoholism, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, and the Native American Woman” (August 14, 2014).

The article discusses the introduction of alcohol in Native American communities, the prevalence of alcohol misuse in certain communities, the causes and effects of FASD, and approaches to intervention.

The article ends with a call for action and suggests some of the unique ways  Native American women can be involved in supporting the health of their communities and preventing FASD.

Read the article here. For more on the role of indigenous women in FASD prevention, see earlier posts:

The 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence Campaign in Carnavon, South Africa


Thousands of organizations across the world are participating in the 2012 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence Campaign. The campaign, now in its 22nd year, is organized by the Center for Women’s Global Leadership at Rutgers University. The campaign began on International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (November 25) and ends on International Human Rights Day (December 10).

While there are a huge number of events and activities being held across South Africa, I was interested to see that the Province of the Northern Cape was hosting an event related to FASD awareness in the community of Carnavon on one of the 16 days.

According to the government press release:

“The preliminary finds of the Balelapa survey indicates that of the 2,045 persons interviewed in Carnavon , 1,523 indicated that they are unemployed and 1,075 indicated that they have no income. Unemployment and poverty are of the contributing factors for substance abuse and the situational analysis indicates that Carnavon is a high risk area for substance abuse.”

I think it’s still exceedingly rare for individuals and governments to make the connections between violence, poverty, substance misuse, and FASD.

Check out this series of stories by Leonie Marinovich on All Africa called South Africa: 16 Stories for 16 Days of Activism.

For more on FASD in South Africa, see earlier posts:

 16 Days logo

First International Conference on Prevention of FASD: Call for Abstracts

The First International Conference on Prevention of FASD will be held on September 23-25, 2013 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Check out the conference website for more information about invited speakers and how to participate.


The conference is being held right after another major conference on FASD on September 18-20, 2013 on Consensus Development Conference on Legal Issues of FASD. Both conferences are supported by the Institute of Health Economics and the government of Alberta.

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).

Decolonizing FASD Policy in Canada

Poster, STOP Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/Fetal Alcohol Effects NOW, First Nations and Inuit health, Health Canada, 2002

It makes sense that the way we understand a problem shapes the solutions we develop. Gemma Hunting and Annette Browne have recently published an article in the journal Women’s Health and Urban Life (click here for free full-text) that looks at how issues related to alcohol use, mothering, and Aboriginal women are often understood.

Despite the growing discussion among researchers that Aboriginal communities may be no more affected by FASD than non-Aboriginal communities, Hunting and Browne argue that FASD continues to be perceived as an ‘Aboriginal issue.’ The problem with this is that, rather than paying attention to all women’s alcohol use, negative misperceptions about Aboriginal women, and Aboriginal health and social issues are perpetuated.

They address some key prevailing ideas (incorrect ideas!) such as:

  • Aboriginal people have a genetic vulnerability to the effects of alcohol (despite compelling evidence that this is not true)
  • Aboriginal women are not capable mothers (they connect this to policies that started in the 1960s and continue today in child welfare practices)
  • Increased awareness about the dangers of alcohol use during pregnancy will lead to changes in behaviour (relates to the idea that health education is the primary solution to FASD)

Overall, Hunting and Browne show that the assumptions underlying FASD prevention policies and interventions, while well intentioned, can inadvertently contribute to racializing and stigmatizing Aboriginal people in Canada (and abroad for that matter). It also means that we continue to focus our energies and resources on who we think are “high risk groups” for FASD rather than on all women and on addressing the broad range of factors that influence their drinking.

For more on this topic, see previous posts:

Further Reading

Hunting, G. and Browne, A. (2012). Decolonizing Policy Discourse: Reframing the ‘Problem’ of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. Women’s Health and Urban Life, 11(1): 35-53. (Free full-text here).

Salmon, A. (2004). ‘It takes a community’: Constructing Aboriginal mothers and children with FAS/FAE as objects of moral panic in/through a FAS/FAE prevention policy.  Journal of the Association for Research on Mothering, 6(1), 112-123. (Free full-text here).

Tait, C. L. (2009). Disruptions in nature, disruptions in society: Indigenous peoples of Canada and the ‘making’ of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. In L. J. Kirmayer & G. Valaskaki (Eds.). Healing traditions: The mental health of Aboriginal peoples in Canada (pp. 196-222).Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Wilson, S. A. & Martell, R. (2003, October). The story of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: A Canadian First Nation’s response. Women & Environments International Magazine, 60/61: 35-36.

STOP Fetal Alcohol Syndrome/Fetal Alcohol Effects NOW, First Nations and Inuit health, Health Canada, 2002 – Inuktitut