The WA Government is asleep at the wheel when it comes to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), according to a Perth researcher.
James Fitzpatrick from the Telethon Kids Institute has given evidence at an inquest into the suicides of 13 young Aboriginal people in the Kimberley, including five children aged between 10 and 13.
All of them had been exposed to alcohol abuse and domestic violence in the home, and there is evidence some likely suffered from FASD.
Dr. Fitzpatrick is a clinical researcher who led a major research project in the Fitzroy Valley and now runs a community-based FASD prevention strategy.
He told the inquest despite being entire preventable, FASD was the most potent driver of disadvantage and suicide in remote communities, yet was not being taken seriously.
Child at risk after witnessing mother take own life
He told the Coroner’s Court about a boy under the age of 10 who he had recently been assessed and diagnosed with FASD.
The boy had witnessed his own mother take her life and was also found to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Dr. Fitzpatrick told the inquest that even at such a young age, the child was showing signs of being suicidal.
“This young boy’s response to challenging situations was to say the words ‘I’m going to kill myself’,” Dr. Fitzpatrick said.
“His circumstance is tragically common and it’s happening on our watch.”
Call for families to step-up
Dr. Fitzpatrick said governments had not done enough to tackle the problem, but said it also required cooperation from within communities.
“Families themselves have to step up and take responsibility and control of the situation,” he said.
He also raised the need for the developmental disorder to be de-stigmatised by the medical profession, calling on GPs to have frank discussions with pregnant patients in order to identify at-risk babies.
In the coming weeks the inquest heads north, with hearings scheduled in Broome, Kununurra, Halls Creek and Fitzroy Crossing.
There, the coroner will hear from local agencies and the victims’ families about what drove the young people to take their own lives and what could have been done to prevent it.