Australian Government Action Plan to reduce the Impact of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD) 2013-14 to 2016-17

On 6 August 2013 the Commonwealth Government released its response to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Social Policy and Legal Affairs Inquiry into the prevention, diagnosis and management of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD Inquiry) final report FASD: The Hidden Harm. The response has been released as the ‘Australian Government Action Plan to reduce the impact of FASD 2013-14 to 2016-17: A Commonwealth Action Plan’ (Action Plan).

A $20 million commitment has been attributed to the Action Plan, which has five key priorities:

1.    Enhancing efforts to prevent FASD in the community – $5.0 million
2.    Secondary prevention targeting women with alcohol dependency – $4.8 million
3.    Better diagnosis and management of FASD – $0.5 million
4.    Targeted measures to prevent and manage FASD within Indigenous communities and families in areas of social disadvantage – $5.9 million
5.    National coordination, research and workforce support – $4.0 million

The Action Plan acknowledges that that a whole of government response is needed to address FASD, and that this response should address the “prevention and diagnosis, builds capacity of the workforce, targets groups at greatest risk and support national leadership on FASD.”

Highlights from the Action Plan include:

  • Building the capacity of the workforce, in particular primary care through the Medicare Local Network to deliver the message that it’s safest not to drink during pregnancy.
  • Undertaking research to develop best practice, compassionate interventions to support at risk women and ensure they have priority access to services to assist them in reducing their alcohol use.
  • Enhancing the capacity of maternal and child health services in Indigenous communities through the New Directions for Mothers and Babies and the Closing the Gap: Indigenous Smoking and Health Lifestyle Workers initiatives. These programs will focus on prevention, early intervention and management of FASD and/or establishment of maternal and child health services in areas of high need.

However, the Action Plan falls well short in addressing the recommendations from the FASD Inquiry, and the actions outlined in the Australian FASD Action Plan released by FARE last year.

The three main areas of concern with the Action Plan are outlined below:

  1. There is no dedicated funding to support people with FASD and their parents and carers. This has been squarely placed within the domain of DisabilityCare Australia and the ‘More Support for Students with Disabilities Initiative.’ Both of these are existing Government initiatives and access to some of these programs relies on the child having a “diagnosed disability.”
  2. Only $500,000 has been allocated to the diagnosis and management of FASD. This funding is allocated to finalising the Australian FASD Diagnostic Instrument with key professional colleges and undertaking a repeat of the surveillance study first undertaken by the Australian Paediatric Surveillance Unit between 2001 and 2004 on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. This $500,000 will not cover the training of health professionals on use of the Diagnostic Instrument nor establish new diagnostic clinics.
  3. It is difficult to determine how much of the $20 million in funding is attributed to new programs. The Government notes this in the Action Plan stating that “Many of the actions and strategies are supported through existing and ongoing program activities.”

Overall, the Action Plan is a step in the right direction for progressing FASD policy in Australia. The recognition of prevention as being of critical importance is welcomed as is the acknowledgment that national coordination is needed.

It is also pleasing that services, practical support and compassionate interventions have been identified as important for pregnant women who are alcohol dependent.

However, the omission of specific support programs for people with FASD, their parents and carers is concerning and does not alleviate the stress currently being placed on these people.

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