Diverse groups join to mark International FASD Awareness Day

Representatives of various Thompson and area agencies gathered at the Thompson Regional Community Centre on Sept. 9 for activities to commemorate International Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) Awareness Day.

The event was organized by the FASD Alliance Thompson & Area, a community coalition with members from the Northern Regional Health Authority (NRHA) and numerous other organizations. More than 40 participants attended the event, which included a community café for service providers to explore issues related to FASD in Thompson, a young woman with FASD speaking to the group about her accomplishments, an FASD services resource fair and an exhibit of photos taken by local parents raising children with FASD, as well as an awareness walk.

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"It's an important issue because there's, even though we're aware of FASD, there's still a lot of misinformation and misconceptions about FASD and we're just trying to raise awareness about alcohol use in pregnancy, services and support, our diagnostic capacity," said Chantal McLelland, who works for the NRHA and is the chair of the FASD Coalition. "There's so many little pieces that fit with FASD. We're just trying to create awareness in general and we find, yes, we know, but we're still seeing high rates of alcohol use in pregnancy."

McLelland says it is estimated that one in 100 children born in Canada today are affected by FASD, making it the most common disability in the country.

Regionally, FASD rates are even higher than in the rest of the country and McLelland says that the further north in Manitoba you go, the greater the use of alcohol during pregnancy.

"We see a lot of people using alcohol in some more remote and isolated situations," she said. "It doesn't matter if they're physically remote and isolated or if they're socially remote and isolated. We do see a lot of that so we really need community support and community involvement to prevent FASD. That's what today really was for us, it was a networking opportunity with people from very diverse sources so we came together."

The resource fair included displays by people and organizations that work with people with developmental disabilities in general and with people with FASD in particular.

The photo voice exhibit was created as part of a collaborative community-based research project by the University of Manitoba Northern Social Work program and Awasis Agency under the direction of Marleny Bonnycastle. During the project, parents used digital cameras to create photos that they then used to talk about their experiences in parenting children living with FASD.

"The foster parents took cameras and went and took photographs of things that they thought were important to sort of show issues and topics with children with FASD," said Colin Bonnycastle, an associate professor and director of the University of Manitoba's Northern Social Work Program and also the partner of Marleny Bonnycastle. "So they took photographs and they brought them to a session and sort of added stories to the photographs to sort of explain them. Then we did an analysis of the photos and came up with a number of themes that are working towards improving foster parents' education and training in the future. This is the first time we've shown it in the public but it was a process of working with foster parents and then we're now moving and doing a similar project in Shamattawa, with families and agencies in Shamattawa. If you read through you can see that they sort of offer very positive ways that they learn to work with children with FASD to help strengthen their success."

Participants at the International FASD Awareness Day events included representatives from the NRHA, the Boys & Girls Club, Youth At Risk North (YARN), the University of Manitoba Faculty of Social Work, Keewatin Tribal Council, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, the School District of Mystery Lake, the Society of Manitobans with Disabilities, Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation, the Juniper Centre, the Salvation Army and employees of the Manitoba Department of Justice, said McLelland.

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