In The News: No option but indeterminate sentence for dangerous offender with FASD


There is little doubt a 33-year-old man’s inability to successfully deal with his violent behaviour is related to his FASD diagnosis.

But while a Regina Court of Queen’s Bench judge recognized the struggles faced by Dallas Dwayne Whitebird, he determined the safety of the public meant nothing but an indeterminate prison sentence could mitigate the risk.

Whitebird’s dangerous offender (DO) hearing wrapped up earlier this week with a decision from Justice Fred Kovach, declaring the man a DO and handing down the sentence.

But the judge didn’t do so lightly.

“I acknowledge and understand that he is a violent individual, but I am also mindful that but for his criminal behaviour, this individual would likely be residing in an adult group home,” Kovach said. “He would be unable to manage day-to-day life without support and guidance. He does not have the capacity to care for himself within the framework of our society, and society has failed him throughout his life.”

Whitebird was convicted back in September 2012 of aggravated assault, but was not sentenced until this week. The offence, committed in the summer of 2011, involved an intoxicated Whitebird punching his older half-sister. She hit a door hard enough to smash her jaw — an injury that caused a serious break from which she never fully recovered before her death a few years ago.

Whitebird was far from a stranger to violence, having spent the largest part of his life in custody since age 14. Court heard his record contains close to 15 entries for violence and firearms offences.

Kovach said Whitebird was in custody for his sister’s assault when he earned a seven-year sentence for slashing the throat of a fellow inmate.

That history left no question in the judge’s mind Whitebird has demonstrated the pattern of repetitive violent behaviour required for a DO designation.

The product of what Kovach described as a “chaotic” childhood, Whitebird was exposed to substance abuse and violence from an early age. His mother a residential school survivor, she developed a drinking problem and struggled as a parent.

Whitebird spent time in various foster homes and eventually, at age 12, started drinking and using marijuana.

Since diagnosed with FASD, Whitebird is considered “cognitively low-functioning” and lacks impulse control. His resulting difficulty with programming intended to curb his violent behaviour was chief among reasons Kovach decided an indeterminate sentence was necessary. Two forensic psychologists who assessed Whitebird found it unlikely he would be able to grasp and retain the material he’d need to in order to change.

One of the psychologists believed the use of the Regional Psychiatric Centre as a home institution for Whitebird could help — a finding with which Kovach agreed. The judge made a recommendation to Correctional Service Canada (CSC) that Whitebird be placed in that institution on a permanent basis — or at least until he is able to make use of lessons learned in programming so as to safely release him.

“The CSC has a responsibility to protect the public from offenders, but it cannot be blind to the need for rehabilitation and support for offenders,” Kovach said. “Whitebird represents a failure by CSC to accommodate the needs of an individual with severe cognitive impairments.”

Even if he is eventually released, Kovach noted Whitebird’s cognitive issues mean he will require community assistance for the rest of his life.

Retrieved from

Alberta Community and Social Services: PDD Community Conversations

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The community-appointed panel leading the Persons with Developmental Disabilities (PDD) program review are hosting community conversations across Alberta.

The letter above (please click on image) or here, provides some more details about upcoming opportunities to meet with the panel and provide feedback into the PDD review in a community near you.

For more information about the review panel and upcoming community conversation sessions, visit the PDD Program Review website.

I said I wouldn’t adopt a child with FASD—and now I have four

i-said-i-wouldnt-adopt-a-child-with-fasd-and-now-i-have-four-1280x960-1024x576BY CHRISTEN SHEPHERD

It was a scorching day so I’d taken my children to a splash pad. I was watching my daughters dancing in the water, when out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of my nine-year-old son, Allan, dart into the parking lot. He ran right in front of a moving car, which had to swerve not to hit him. I bolted over and grabbed him by the arm.

“Why would you do that? You could have been killed!”

This came as a surprise to Allan. He’d spotted a bee at the splash pad and run from it, not thinking for a moment that hurtling through the parking lot held far greater dangers.

Allan drifted through his days, coming downstairs in the morning wearing yesterday’s dirty clothes, never closing cupboard doors or drawers, forgetting to zip his schoolbag as he headed out the door with his hair unbrushed. Every interaction was tinged with frustration, and I felt I was failing as a parent. None of the tricks that I’d learned parenting my two eldest sons worked. Almost immediately after Allan came into our family, it was clear to me something was very wrong.

Nine years ago, when my husband, Trevor, and I set out to adopt, we had two stipulations: The child must be able to live independently one day and must not have been exposed to alcohol prenatally. From what we’d heard in our adoption classes, alcohol exposure created a muddle of impossible behaviours, far beyond what we could handle.

In the end we didn’t end up adopting a child—we adopted four children. The siblings we fell in love with from the moment we were handed their profile were aged 3, 5, 7 and 9. In the kids’ profile photo they had optimistic smiles, and when we got to meet them in person, we discovered they had endearing personalities to match.

On visits, they loved spending time on our farm—running around gleefully in the barn and fields, gently hugging our cats and chickens and patiently feeding grass to our goats and ponies. I knew it would be an adjustment to go from a family of four to a family of eight, but aside from having to cook twice as much, I expected things would carry on the same in our home—just with double the life and love. I couldn’t wait.

People say: “If you adopt older children, rather than babies, you know what you’re getting.” Well it turns out we didn’t. The anticipated mess and noise of our four new kids was compounded by giant tantrums and all kinds of surprising behaviours. Each child added unique elements to the hurricane: one punched holes through walls, another ran away during thunderstorms, another screamed at an ear-piercing pitch for hours at a time.

Allan was the biggest puzzle. He raged over small things: One time I told him dinner was still a few minutes away, so he leaped toward a pot of water boiling on the stove and almost burned himself. A trip to Niagara Falls left him sitting on the curb feeling sick and sticking his fingers in his ears, to block out the chatter of the crowds. And even though his classmates had long since twigged about Santa, Allan still wrote him earnest letters.

Allan spoke as articulately as other boys his age, so we initially pitched our expectations for him far beyond what he could manage. It was hard not to compare him to my eldest sons, and as we grappled with more and more behaviours that we couldn’t understand, I began to worry that he didn’t want to mature or try at anything in life.

Night after night of homework battles made us push for psych-educational testing at the school. It took a year to materialize, but finally Allan was diagnosed with intellectual delays. While the Children’s Aid Society told us this likely stemmed from a turbulent ride through the foster-care system, we were convinced there was more to it. Every aspect of life was such a struggle. After I presented our social worker with a list of Allan’s deficits, she finally referred us to a doctor trained in diagnosing fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).

Click here to read the full article!

In The News: Kamloops mom pushing for more government support for FASD children

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By Chad Klassen


Sellene McBride is like any 8-year-old girl – full of energy and always wanting to play. In particular, Sellene loves to climb and is fearless in doing so.

“It’s fun and I’m making new friends,” she said while playing at Riverside Park.

But what you can’t notice on the surface is Sellene’s FASD, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, which affects her life in so many ways.

“Sellene requires a significant amount of support,” said Sellene’s adopted mother Bonnie McBride, who’s adopted three other children, including Sellene’s two biological brothers. “Her FASD has come with six other diagnoses in total, which is very common. Sellene has ADHD and she has difficulty regulating her environment, she has sensory disregulation, she has epilepsy, all of those types of things.”

Bonnie’s with Sellene every step of her journey, which is not easy and may only get more challenging. She adopted Sellene officially at 10 months old, but was there during her birth and never looked back.

“We started fostering her, very quickly fell deeply in love with her,” said Bonnie. “When it came time to make a decision about what the long-term plan was going to for Sellene with her birth family, we couldn’t imagine anybody else doing this for her.”

Sellene is fully aware of her FASD, knowing her biological mother drank during her pregnancy. It has a great impact on her daily living.

“It’s hard to sleep and hard to hear because our brain is thinking of other stuff, which is ignoring what people are saying,” noted Sellene, trying to explain her symptoms.

Now in Grade 4, she’s home-schooled, pulled out of public school midway through Grade 3 last year. Bonnie said there were distractions that hampered her ability to learn.

Home-schooling has helped Sellene thrived with a calmer, less sensory environment. What makes sellene’s situation more challenging for Bonnie, though, is the family doesn’t receive support from the government.

“There is a lot of programming that’s both provincially-funded and by non-profits that we can’t access,” said Bonnie, who added that Sellene is not including because she’s not diagnosed with autism or another such disability. “So we feel as an FASD family that we’ve really been left behind and it’s up to us to give her as many opportunities as we can.”

Bonnie, which runs the SPCA Thrift Store on Victoria and the non-profit Four Paws Food Bank, hasn’t been able to work full-time since sellene came into their care, and she doesn’t envision that changing.

She’s urging the government to step forward and help people and families struggling with FASD.

“Now that we know there’s so much of this occurring, I think it’s time for the government to really step up,” she said. “For the most part we’ve focused on prevention, which is great and we need to do that. But now we need to recognize that these kids are growing up and are super high-risk of repeating this process, going to jail and living on the street and having poor health outcomes.”

In The News: Shame not the solution for preventing Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders, says advocate


0umzDCrm_400x400Claire Theobal, EDMONTON — On International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness Day, advocates warn shaming women may be doing more harm than good for at risk mothers and their babies.

“When we focus on FASD as simply being woman drinks alcohol causes FASD, we do a disservice to women as well as to the infants. FASD is a community issue, so awareness really needs to focus on what are the reasons behind a woman’s alcohol consumption while she’s pregnant,” said Lisa Rogozinsky, co-ordinator of the Edmonton and Area Fetal Alcohol Network on Sunday.

According to provincial estimates, nearly nine in every thousand babies in Alberta are born with FASD — around 500 every year — meaning there are more than 46,000 Albertans with FASD.

FASD describes a wide range of physical and mental disabilities caused when a mother consumes alcohol during pregnancy, including physical birth defects, developmental delays, learning disabilities, memory problems, as well as difficulties in communicating their feelings and understanding consequences.

“When we don’t support people with FASD the way in which they need, what we see are these secondary challenges that can be devastating,” said Rogozinsky.

Those with FASD can sometimes struggle with learning from past experience and understanding risks or consequences, making them vulnerable to high risk behaviours.

For children, their symptoms can disrupt their ability to learn and interact with their classmates at school.

In adults, it can cause issues with maintaining employment, addiction, homelessness and trouble with the law.

A 2011 study of Canadian inmates found 10 per cent suffered the effects of FASD despite not having been diagnosed before intake into the prison system.

“People who have FASD, they have brain differences. That means how they learn, how they respond is going to look a little bit different than a neurotypical brain. The more we recognize this, we can support the individual the way they need,” said Rogozinsky.

While messaging that FASD is one hundred per cent preventable is often repeated, Rogozinsky said FASD needs to be treated as a community issue rather than a moral failure on the part of a mother.

“We need to take a social determinant of health perspective when it comes to prevention. Prevention is not about telling women not to drink, it’s about supporting them so that they capacity to abstain from alcohol,” Rogozinsky said.

For example, she would like to see those trying to prevent FASD look at other factors that may influence a woman’s ability to abstain from alcohol during pregnancy, such as homelessness or domestic violence, and provide targeted resources for pregnant women with chronic alcohol addiction issues.
Click here to read the full article.

CBC: Yukon woman speaks out about living with ‘the invisible disability’ — FASD

Jessica McMurphy of Whitehorse lives with FASD and works at the Yukon Transportation Museum. She says people need to know more about ‘the invisible disease.’ (Sandi Coleman/CBC)

When Jessica McMurphy of Whitehorse was diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) at the age of 20, she saw the diagnosis as a sort of gift.

“It was a gift because I got a lot of added support,” she said.

McMurphy, now 32 years old, credits that support — from organizations like the Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Society of Yukon (FASSY) and the Yukon Association for Community Living — for helping her build independence and find meaningful work.

She just started a new job this summer at the Yukon Transportation Museum, an ideal place for a history buff like her. McMurphy said she and her husband — also diagnosed with FASD — have their own place and pay their own bills.

“Anybody looking at us downtown would probably go, ‘you don’t look like you have a disability.’ Which is why they call it the invisible disability,” she said.

McMurphy said she’s seen a growing awareness of FASD in recent years, but feels there’s still a ways to go. That’s why she’s agreed to be featured in a new awareness campaign being launched this weekend in Yukon, by FASSY and the Association for Community Living. The launch is to coincide with FASD Awareness Day on Sunday.

McMurphy feels that people living with FASD don’t always get the support they need — especially if they’re seen as “high-functioning” individuals.

“A lot of people on social assistance who have disabilities and are on the disability side, after you make so much and you’re doing so well, they go, ‘oh good, you’re doing so well, let’s take that from you now,'” she said.

“Just because it looks like we’re doing really well, don’t pull [those supports] away, because that sets us up for failure.”

10-year FASD action plan

The Yukon government is working on an 10-year Yukon FASD “action plan,” and released the results of a year-long public consultation about what that plan might include last week.

The consultation saw government officials meet with Yukoners who live with FASD, their families, and service providers, in several communities. Those meetings happened between May 2017 and March 2018.

The results echo what McMurphy said — that too often, people with FASD do not receive the support they need, to reach their full potential. Sometimes, it’s because FASD goes undiagnosed or unrecognized.

According to the government’s “What We Heard” document summarizing the results of the consultations, stigma is also an issue.

It says too many Yukoners do not understand what it means to live with FASD, despite its prevalence. In 2016, the Public Health Agency of Canada estimated that between two and five per cent of Canadians live with FASD.

“Lack of awareness and understanding about FASD can lead to prejudice and discrimination toward people living with FASD. We heard that blaming and shaming is being felt in all communities,” the report says.

It’s not clear when the government’s 10-year FASD action plan will come out, although the “What We Heard” document says the government hopes to launch it in the summer of 2018 — which ends next week.

Retrieved from CBC at

News: Canadian children have high rates of mental illness, poverty and mortality: National study

Ethnicity Diversity Gorup of Kids Friendship Cheerful ConceptA new report issued Tuesday highlights alarming statistics regarding the mental, physical and emotional health of Canadian children.

The report, titled Raising Canada, was released by Children First Canada and the O’Brien Institute for Public Health, and is based on data from a number of government agencies including Statistics Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada.

There are currently 1.2 million Canadian children living in low-income housing and 10.7 per cent of families with children under six say they experience food insecurity. Canada also has one of the highest infant mortality rates of OECD countries, and the leading cause of childhood deaths are preventable accidents and suicide.

The shocking statistics don’t end there.

“We have this idea that Canada is a great place to raise kids, but we rank 25th out of 41 wealthy countries globally when it comes to the development of children,” Sara Austin, founder and lead director of Children First Canada, says to Global News.

“In a poll, most Canadians thought that we were a top-five country for kids. We’re far from being a leading country. We have close to eight million children in Canada and too many are in jeopardy.”

Preventable accidents are the leading cause of death for kids, and Austin points to a lack of effective booster seat legislation as one of the culprits. But suicide is the second leading cause of death, which also indicates a lack of proper mental health support.

“An alarm bell needs to be rung,” she says. “There are a range of factors [that contribute to mental health issues]. Our report also highlights the number of kids who experience child abuse — one in three in Canada. That’s also closely linked to mental health outcomes.”

The physical health of Canadian children also raises a number of red flags. The report found that 27.9 per cent of kids aged 12 to 17 reported being overweight or obese, and only 35 per cent of five- to 17-year-olds meet the daily recommended guidelines for physical activity.

Perhaps even more alarming is that a quarter of all children have not received their full recommended doses of diphtheria, whooping cough and tetanus vaccine by the age of two.

Click here to read full Global News coverage.