It’s now up to Halton MPP and Ontario’s Minister of Education Indira Naidoo-Harris.
Parents and caregivers of those with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) across the province will be waiting.
They will watch in anticipation to see if Naidoo-Harris rises in the legislature at Queen’s Park on Feb. 20 and carries Bill 191 forward for second reading; if not, the bill will die.
Bill 191 calls for an amendment to the Education Act to promote awareness and understanding of FASD, as well as best practices to support students with the disorder, and to collaborate with parents and caregivers to do so.
“It’s a paradigm shift in thinking, in being able to think brain, not blame.”
Parent advocate Mary Ann Bunkowsky
The private member’s bill was first raised and unanimously supported last December by Kingston MPP Sophie Kiwala.
“The bill is critical to children with FASD to achieve success,” commented Mark Courtepatte, co-chair of the Hamilton FASD Parent and Caregiver Support Group, and former acting chair of the Halton group of the same name, as well as chair of the Ontario FASD Political Action Group.
“Many school boards across Ontario today do not recognize FASD under the (ministry’s pupil) exceptionalities. Autism is very similar to FASD in the characteristics, behaviours and methods and approaches to support them, however, the supports and awareness within the ministry of education and school boards across Ontario for FASD are a fraction of what exists for Autism,” said Courtepatte.
FASD is often referred to as ‘Autism without the supports’, he said.
According to the Ministry of Children and Youth Services FASD Round Table report, there are in excess of 130,000 people with FASD in Ontario.
“Most teachers and EAs across Ontario supporting children with FASD are not familiar with FASD and have not had any formal training on how to support them,” said Courtepatte. “We are very concerned that the bill will be dropped from the docket on Feb. 20.”
Concerned and discouraged, said Courtepatte, because parents who have written to the minister have received no commitment from her to support the legislation.
The legislative schedule for the upcoming parliamentary session has not yet been set, said the minister’s spokesperson Richard Francella, adding that “we continue to explore further ways to better support students who are living with FASD and their families.”
“We know that students with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder may require supports in order to succeed in school. Our government has committed to investing $26 million over four years to expand support for children, youth and their families and caregivers affected by FASD,” said Francella.
This amount may appear considerable, but is negligible, said Courtepatte, especially if you consider that FASD is cause by pre-natal exposure and that the government made $1.9B profit from alcohol (2016), and most FASD children were adopted from a government agency.
The new investment supports six initiatives that will create one‐stop access to information and training resources, expand parent support networks, increase access to FASD initiatives developed by Indigenous partners, said Francella.