The FASD Youth Justice Pilot Project

Overview

The FASD Youth Justice Pilot Project (YJPP) was developed to ensure that youth with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) who have come in contact with the law receive a formal diagnosis, appropriate sentences and improved access to services. As well, the project aimed to assist in identifying and developing family-oriented, community-based resources for such youth. YJPP was conducted in two phases: Phase I was conducted between October 2004 and March 2005; and Phase II was conducted between April 1, 2005 and March 31, 2006. The Phase II program evaluation involved collecting information from stakeholders through interviews, focus groups and questionnaires.

Context

FASD effects – which can include sensory integration issues, mental health problems, and lack of appreciation for consequences, among others – can cause FASD youth to behave inappropriately, often leading to trouble with the law. The FASD Youth Justice Pilot Project was implemented in Winnipeg through collaboration between the Interagency Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Program, Manitoba Justice, the Clinic for Alcohol and Drug Exposed Children (CADEC) of the Children’s Hospital of Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Police Service, and Manitoba Health.

Participation

The YJPP assessed and advocated for support services for 17 youth during Phase II, and 22 youth in total, surpassing the 10–12 youth goal specified in the funding proposal. Of the 17 youth assessed in Phase II, 11 received an FASD related diagnosis. A total of 88 youth referrals were made to the YJPP, but many were rejected because the potential participants lived outside the city; some were not accepted to the program due to an inability to confirm the FASD diagnosis or exposure to maternal drinking during pregnancy. Crown attorneys, defense lawyers, and agency and service provider representatives were invited to participate in focus groups or provide feedback via a questionnaire.

Operation

The goals of YJPP were to: assess the youth involved with the justice system who may have FASD; provide recommendations to the courts; build support capacity within the family, government and community; and implement a meaningful multidisciplinary intervention to support youth affected by FASD.

Based on data collected by the project coordinators, the 22 youth assessed by the YJPP waited an average of 11 days between their assessment and receiving their assessment report.

As part of the program, YJPP staff conducted numerous education and training sessions regarding FASD in and for schools, college programs, Child and Family Services agencies, service providers, First Nations organizations, youth resource centers and correctional staff.

YJPP also provided courts with detailed recommendations for appropriate sentences for FASD affected youth, and helped strengthen relationships among the various agencies and service providers.

Evaluation

The evaluation involved collecting information from stakeholders through interviews, focus groups, and questionnaires. The stakeholders consulted as part of the evaluation included: youth and their families; YJPP staff; the medical team; judges; crown attorneys; defense lawyers; and agencies and service providers.

All stakeholder groups supported the YJPP, noting that it had increased access to diagnostic services, provided case management services, advocated for services for youth, and provided FASD-related education and training.

The evaluators observed that the YJPP required sustainable sources of funding. Also, the more agencies and organizations were invited as partners in the program, and the greater judicial and medical teams’ participation, the more in-depth was the participants’ understanding of the available supports and services.  

Recommendations

Several stakeholder groups felt that the YJPP should be expanded to include youth outside the City of Winnipeg. A more proactive rather than reactive model for obtaining FASD diagnosis was recommended because time limitations of the justice system, such as the pre-sentence period, impacted the amount of time available to assess youth and consequently the eligibility of youth for the YJPP. Stakeholders also noted that the justice system should not be the primary, much less only, source of FASD assessments for youth.

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