Recently, I was invited to attend the monthly meeting of the Collaborative Solutions Action Group, part of the FASD Collective in Calgary. The topic of discussion this day was the experiences of some families in their efforts to find appropriate services for their loved ones affected by FASD.
Most of the experiences shared revolved around youth aged 14 – 20; the intersection of FASD and adolescence at full speed. Many are finding that when these youth begin to experience clashes between more authority, safety, or independence within the family, there is often increased conflict, not just with parents / caregivers, but with other family members. It can escalate to the point where safety of one or more members is at risk.
Families seem to be offered one of three strategies in this situation:
- First, families are expected to develop / arrange their own respite resources, but this is increasingly difficult especially in rural or remote areas, and it is becoming more difficult to find respite homes where the expectations / rules are similar to the original home. At this age, a temporary child welfare group home placement may be offered, but these group homes are not set up to address the vulnerability of those diagnosed with FASD. Would any youth agree to daily care support at this age? There is great complexity in the needs of the youth and family. Most often respite is not an option.
- Second, as there is a lack of support and understanding of FASD within a community (school, mental health, disability services, health, etc.), families are advised to take the youth to the hospital, or to contact police based upon safety of either themselves or other members of the family. If, If, the family is able to gain a hospital admission, initially things seem to calm, but the moment the youth returns home to the family situation AND the other triggers of the family, the risk / violence can escalate very quickly. Some agencies report that individuals / families have had the revolving door of service from home to the hospital, going on two years with little or no change to outcomes within the home.
- Finally, most recently, some families have been advised to surrender their youth to the government (either temporarily or permanently), in order to access some level of service. Many parents cannot fathom the thought of removing the youth from their hearts or homes. Difficult decisions such as this can leave the families traumatized.
The participants of the meeting acknowledge that currently most networks have supports for the parents / caregivers, but the support for the youth and other family members are sorely lacking. The group also acknowledge that we need to find multi-disciplinary collaborative community strategies.
A number of questions and concerns remain based on the challenges addressed by families:
- How can we renew hope for these individuals and families to combat the reoccurring trauma and promote the message that things can be different?
- How can we positively respond when the adolescent becomes physical?
- How can we work together (including governments, community agencies, and natural supports) to support the individuals and families to achieve their goals and dreams of living a fulfilled life and be a contributing member to society? The social and economic benefit of ensuring the right kind of supports is immeasurable.
- When we are told they don’t have a placement – only a spot on a waitlist – parents are often forced to do things that are not helpful / beneficial, such as quitting their job to supervise their youth, creating new challenges, such as economic restraints.
Please share your thoughts and experiences with us regarding supporting individuals with FASD and their families in your region! Elaine and Allyson are both very interested to follow this post and to hear how others handle, cope, and strategize around this huge challenge.