Gilbert, D. J., Mukherjee, R. A. S., Kassam, N., & Cook, P. A. (2021). Exploring the experiences of social workers in working with children suspected to have fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. Adoption & Fostering, 45(2), 155–172. doi:10.1177/03085759211011735
Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is one outcome from prenatal alcohol exposure. Social workers are likely to encounter children with the condition, due to the greater likelihood of prenatal alcohol exposure among children in social services settings.
This study explores the experiences of social workers in working with children suspected of having FASD and the support offered to social workers, the children and their families. Semi-structured interviews followed by qualitative framework analysis were conducted with seven child and family social workers along with one child protection solicitor who had experience of handling FASD cases.
The two main themes that emerged from the data were a lack of knowledge about FASD and the paucity of diagnosis. Lack of knowledge among the social workers was linked to difficulty in managing children suspected to have the condition, feelings of frustration and normalisation of challenging behaviours. The paucity of diagnosis led to an under-emphasis of FASD in assessments, a dearth of specialist services and confusion about its specific effects in contexts of multiple substance misuse and harmful socio-environmental factors.
The need for increased FASD awareness within social services and the development of FASD-targeted support for children and families is highlighted. Social workers would benefit from the inclusion of FASD-focused training in their curricula and professional development plans. Improving the diagnostic capacities of health institutions would address the paucity of diagnosis and raise the profile of FASD, especially in the social services setting.