AWARENESS: University of Sydney pediatrics Professor Elizabeth Elliott leads the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder workshop in Cherbourg on Tuesday October 9.
AWARENESS: University of Sydney pediatrics Professor Elizabeth Elliott leads the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder workshop in Cherbourg on Tuesday October 9. Jessica McGrath

Cherbourg leaders in raising FASD awareness

ABOUT 60 per cent of Australian women have reported drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

Cherbourg hosted a Queensland-first workshop in an attempt to change this, and spread awareness about the effects of alcohol consumption while pregnant.

The Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder workshop was unlike previous workshops as it featured a range of professionals, and was held at the Cherbourg Ration Shed from October 8 to 11.

University of Sydney paediatrics Professor Elizabeth Elliott said community members, teachers, justice workers, as well as a wide range of health professionals around the South Burnett attended sessions during the workshop.

"We decided to not limit this to health professionals, but invite teachers, police and justice professionals and community workers, because they are all the front line workers when it comes to dealing with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder," she said.

FASD is characterised by a brain injury due to alcohol exposure during pregnancy, and is a severe consequence of having alcohol during pregnancy.

The injury usually manifests as severe developmental and learning problems, and occasionally, as birth defects and face abnormalities when the foetus is exposed to alcohol during the first trimester.

The FASD workshop was a result of collaborations with the University of Sydney, the Cherbourg Health Action Group and the Cherbourg Health Service.

"They have long been concerned that the behavioural and learning problems they are seeing in their kids may be related to alcohol use and pregnancy," Prof Elliott said.

 

EQUIPPING: South Burnett professionals attend the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder workshop in Cherbourg led by University of Sydney pediatrics Professor Elizabeth Elliott on Tuesday October 9.
EQUIPPING: South Burnett professionals attend the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder workshop in Cherbourg led by University of Sydney pediatrics Professor Elizabeth Elliott on Tuesday October 9. Jessica McGrath

There is a real need for this type of awareness in any Australian community where there has been high levels of drinking.

"Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder is not an indigenous problem, sometimes it's concentrated in communities where there's been a lot of disadvantage and drinking, because women drink because of the stress in their life," Prof Elliott said.

FASD can be preventable, which is why people need to be aware of the harm of alcohol during pregnancy.

"We know that there are high levels of drinking throughout Australia, it shouldn't be seen as an indigenous problem, rather this community should be seen as leaders in identifying the need for raising awareness in their community," she said.

One core group of workshop attendees attended the entire four-day workshop.

"We see them as champions for FASD for the community and will provide ongoing training and education for their professional groups," Prof Elliott said.

The workshop attendees will be better equipped with the awareness to start identifying any children with FASD symptoms, such as learning and speech difficulties, living in the community.

The earlier children are diagnosed and their needs are identified, the earlier they can get the help they need, improving their quality of life.

If a child is identified with problems, professionals may also identify opportunities to provide the mother with ongoing help for alcohol use problems.

Sessions were also held for community members, one for the elders, the women, and men, to familiarise them with the impacts of FASD and how to recognise these in the community.

"Our government is currently developing a national 10-year strategy to address FASD with a focus on prevention, diagnosis and treatment of FASD, and support for families living with and professionals managing FASD," Prof Elliott said.