There is normally no greater instinctive desire of parents and grandparents to have a happy and healthy child. It is a primary driver of being human. Parents throughout their lives gladly make many sacrifices to ensure their children reach full intellectual, emotional, development and physical potential participating in civil society and employment.
The most common chemical that deprives unborn children of reaching their full potential is not the risk of defects and others harm from consuming soft cheeses or other foods. Drinking alcohol when pregnant is the most common cause of non-genetic birth defects with an estimated 5 per cent of children born with a permanent physical, developmental and behavioural issue.
Beverages containing more than 0.05 per cent pure ethanol are determined as ‘alcoholic’. Ethanol or alcohol is so firmly embedded and normalised in Australia culture and sport through billion dollar industry saturated promotion that it literally follows us from the cradle to the grave (baby showers to wakes). Yet, a significant majority of the population including some primary health, legal and community care providers and educators are insufficiently aware of the real magnitude of harm associated with drinking ethanol when pregnant. These harms are collectively known as Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Alcohol is a grade 1 carcinogen, teratogen and neuro-toxin.
The Newcastle Local Drug Action Team (LDAT) is part of a national Health consortium funded by the Australian government to pilot an inclusive community-based FASD awareness, prevention, workforce development and improved diagnosis model of care over three years. Newcastle was only one of two national sites selected for this $2million prevention project because in part, of its recognition of our town’s collective achievements in reducing alcohol fuelled street violence and the quality of our medical, advocacy and support network.
As the first concrete step in significantly improving the region’s awareness and prevention of FASD and establish a guiding community/stakeholder reference panel, the LDAT is hosting a free public forum at Newcastle City Hall between 5.45pm-8pm on December 5 (RSVP firstname.lastname@example.org). National FASD experts and a local magistrate will lead discussions with the audience. They will confirm that alcohol and pregnancy don’t mix. They may shock those in attendance with the statistics that around an average of 90 per cent of kids with FASD may develop a mental health and/or alcohol and drug problem, 60 per cent may be involved in the criminal justice system, 60 per cent may have disrupted education and average life expectancy is reduced to the mid 30s.
But the main message from the forum will be uplifting. Coordinated and improved diagnosis and earlier intervention will help outcomes. FASD is primarily preventable by investment in effective community-driven awareness strategies and modest alcohol supply and advertising controls that translate into relative small periods of refrain from ethanol by women and their partners. Finally, our region’s renowned capacity to unite against natural or man-made adversity and the generosity and collaboration of all its public, private and philanthropic organisations and leaders will ensure we will make FASD history in Newcastle.