Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Reintegration Collaborative Program

The Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Reintegration Collaborative Program was a two-year pilot project that ran from April 2004 to March 2006. The project was designed and implemented by the Enviros Wilderness School Association, a non-profit group located in Calgary.

The project supports a key goal of the Youth Criminal Justice Act by promoting the rehabilitation and reintegration of young offenders through individualized treatment and educational programs. The project strove to address the particular needs of each participant by accessing a variety of community supports.

Individuals with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) can present a difficult challenge to mainstream society. Many suffer from a host of complex physical and mental disabilities and do not respond well to traditional treatments and environments.

The pilot project involved young offenders diagnosed with FASD who sought to be reintegrated into society following a probation order or time in custody.  All of the 19 participants were male. Some participated under court orders, while others participated willingly following referrals from the Calgary Young Offenders Centre, probation officials, doctors or families. The project’s aim was to develop a strategy based on a participant’s particular abilities and disabilities, to connect the youth with appropriate resources in the community, and to help him (and his family) create an effective support network.

The project also aimed to address the lack of knowledge and programming for people diagnosed with FASD. Currently, most relevant research and programming focuses on prevention rather than treatment; there is no cure for FASD. The project involved training and consultation for both participants and care providers. The goal was to create a common understanding of the participant’s needs and develop a collaborative, holistic care plan. Another important element was identifying and exploiting the strengths of participants. Working with a counsellor, each participant identified skills and abilities that could lead to employment opportunities and effective coping strategies.

Project assessment

To assess the project, Kim Ruse-Blair Consulting conducted a series of staff interviews and studied case files and program materials. When attempts to interview most participants failed, the assessor used written surveys. Fewer than 50 percent of participants completed the surveys, although significantly larger percentages of caregivers and support agencies did so.

Key findings

Based on the limited amount of data collected, the project succeeded in meeting its goals. Most participants indicated that they had more knowledge about FASD and that the project had helped them improve life skills. Most care providers indicated that they felt more confident and successful in their role.

The data also shows that the circumstances of many participants were far more complex than anticipated. Some were homeless and without access to adequate food, clothing and medical care. In some cases, it was difficult to determine who the participant’s legal guardians were. Staff made an average of 68 contacts per participant — more than a hundred phone calls in some cases — to find and gain access to appropriate community supports.

Lessons learned

  • Support from the community — particularly from service agencies — is crucial. Not enough time was allotted to engaging other service providers and professionals before starting the project.

  • Few people in the community understand FASD, and few services are available that are tailored to the needs of individuals with FASD. Many service agencies struggle to adjust their programming to meet these needs.

  • Three factors were key to the project’s success: the variety and flexibility of services it made available; strong family support and involvement; and the court system’s acceptance of, and cooperation with, the project.

  • The project would have benefited from a three-tiered intervention strategy: basic needs and resource support; community education and capacity building; and family and youth intervention.

Conclusion

The pilot project succeeded in educating participants and stakeholders about FASD and improved access to relevant services and programs.

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