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Research from the Banksia Hill FASD Project finds unprecedented levels of impairment

Date posted: 14 February 2018

Nine in 10 young people in detention have at least one form of severe neurodevelopmental delay, while at least a third have Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD), according to an Australian-first study conducted by Telethon Kids Institute.

The Banksia Hill Project is the first study in Australia to assess and diagnose young people in a youth custodial facility for FASD. A Telethon Kids research team led by University of Western Australia Professor, Carol Bower, and Clinical Associate Professor, Raewyn Mutch, spent two years working with more than 100 young people aged between 10-17 years who were incarcerated in Western Australia’s only youth detention facility, Banksia Hill Detention Centre.

Professor Bower said the team had set out to look specifically for FASD but were surprised to find evidence of severe neurodevelopmental impairment in almost every young person they assessed. 'Of the 99 young people who completed full assessments we found 36 of them - more than one in three - had FASD,' Professor Bower said. 'Of this 36, only two had been previously diagnosed.'

Professor Bower said this was the highest known prevalence of FASD in a custodial/corrective setting worldwide, and almost double the previous highest Australian estimate in a non-custodial setting. 'Just as worryingly, we found that 89% of the sentenced young people had at least one severe neurodevelopmental impairment, whether they had FASD or not,' Professor Bower noted. 'Similarly to FASD, this is amongst the highest reported rate of neuro-disability amongst sentenced youth in the world.'

Paediatrician and researcher, Dr Raewyn Mutch, one of the clinicians who conducted the assessments, said many of the young people in Banksia Hill found to have severe impairment had previously been written off as 'naughty children.' 'What they do is socially unacceptable but it’s arisen from a brain that isn’t working properly, and that underlying, innate difference of brain function has not been previously recognised nor understood,' Dr Mutch said. 'Some of these young people were profoundly impaired, yet for many this was the first time they had received a comprehensive assessment to examine their strengths and difficulties, despite attending school and, in many cases, despite their prior engagement with child protection services and the justice system.'

The full findings from the research paper are available online here.

Source: Telethon Kids Institute, SBS

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Last updated: 14 February 2018
 
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