A South Island couple who foster two daughters with possible foetal alcohol syndrome disorder (FASD) fear one of them could end up in court because they do not get adequate support.
FASD covers a wide range of brain and physical development impairments caused by prenatal exposure to alcohol.
Families and experts want the disorder classed as a disability so that services for its diagnosis and treatment can be better aligned and funded.
The couple, who did not wish to be named, told Nine to Noon their daughters did not have access to specialists in the South Island.
They said the family could go to the North Island for help, but that would cost thousands of dollars.
“What we’re hoping for is that nationally there will be a lot more effort put into providing the services that families in our position need.
“So that’s not actually a postcode lottery in terms of what you get based on where you live.”
The couple said one of the daughters had behavioural problems – she was volatile, attention seeking and had been caught stealing at school.
They noticed something was wrong when she was about two years old, and said the family got little support from Child, Youth and Family.
Even though they sought counselling for the girl, the couple said FASD was not brought up until after a community constable visited.
“[The constable] was the one that put us in contact with the counselling service here in the city,” they said.
“It was through that counselling service that we started to get someone who heard our concerns and realised that we were dealing with a child that possibly had attachment issues, but probably more than that.”
Kerryn Bagley, a Brisbane-based consultant on the disorder who worked in New Zealand for seven years, said services for FASD were scattered around the country, and many people went undiagnosed.
“In many areas, including most of the South Island, there’s no access to best practice FASD assessment or diagnostic services at all.”
She said there was also an overwhelming lack of understanding on how to treat it.
The Ministry of Health is currently working on an action plan for FASD.
The draft plan has goals to raise awareness in the community of the dangers of drinking alcohol while pregnant.
It also aims to provide better care and support for people with FASD and their families.
The plan is expected to be finalised next year.