Skip to main content

Visions Journal

A reminder that this article from our magazine Visions was published more than 1 year ago. It is here for reference only. Some information in it may no longer be current. It also represents the point of the view of the author only. See the author box at the bottom of the article for more about the contributor.

Working with adults affected by FASD

Jeanette Turpin

Reprinted from "Women's" issue of Visions Journal, 2004, 2 (4), p. 40-41

The Northern Family Health Society is a non-profit society that has been operating in Prince George for more than 16 years. Our core program is Healthiest Babies Possible (HBP), a Pregnancy Outreach Program (POP) funded by our local health authority. In the past few years, we’ve added Health Canada’s Community Action Plan for Children (CAPC) and the Canadian Prenatal Nutrition Program (CPNP) to our programming options.

Our agency has had the benefit of several research opportunities that focus on the lives of women and their families. We use a participatory action approach, and issues we have examined include family resiliency, mentoring at-risk young women, and better understanding how women recover from substance misuse. A theme that continually weaves through each of our research initiatives is fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) prevention.

In the spring of 2003, Northern Family Health received funding for a project that grew out of a conversation with a child protection worker. In this child protection worker’s opinion, there are a growing number of families entering the child protection system for whom referral options have little or no effect on the parenting capacity of the individuals being referred. She felt that the referral agencies were providing quality services, but they didn’t appear to be meeting the needs of these parents.

Through further discussion with the child protection worker, it became apparent that the parents she was talking about had characteristics similar to individuals with FASD. Research around intervention strategies with adults affected by FASD generally, and parenting strategies for persons affected by FASD specifically, is limited. What we do know, at least anecdotally, is that traditional approaches to enhancing parental capacity don’t work. The short-term/ time-limited nature of these approaches to intervention also fails to meet the needs of the families who are affected by this disability.

The discussion with the child protection worker led to the expressed wish: “Wouldn’t it be great if we could get funding to try out a different approach to working with these families!”

Currently, we are in the midst of just such an initiative, which we’ve named Structured for Success. It has two components—a research piece and a pilot program focusing on intervention. The research will parallel, as well as document, the process of the interventions.

The intervention component is a collaborative effort between MCFD Child Protection Services, Addictions Services, Mental Health and the Northern Health Authority. Each agency is contributing either a full-time or half-time person to make up a ‘wrap-around’ team (i.e., one that develops uniquely individualized supports and services). This team will work with families in which the identified parents have poor adaptive functioning and whose parenting capacity or family resiliency has been compromised by suspected or diagnosed FASD and/or other types of brain damage, including adult mental health issues and/or alcohol and drug misuse.

The framework for intervention will be based on a neurocognitive model that Diane Malbin (FASNET, Portland, Oregon) has helped develop. This model considers FASD behaviours less as pathological (i.e., caused by mental or physical disorder) and more as direct or indirect statements about the characteristics of the disability.

The intervention approach we intend to use will take this neurocognitive approach a step further. Environments will be targeted for intervention in order to provide appropriate supports and accommodations for the individual. This will minimize the impact of the disability for that individual and the people around them.

Pulling together the intervention team has taken longer then we had anticipated. Bringing these partner agencies together has been a coordination and scheduling nightmare. However, the support we have received from our partner agencies has been amazing. It truly is a collaborative effort.

We are now in the initial stages of developing the team. The people who will be moving over to become part of our Structured for Success team have been identified, and the FASD training is underway. We hope to begin taking our first clients in December 2004.

About the Author

Jeanette is Executive Director of the Northern Family Health Society in Prince George. Project updates will be posted at

Stay Connected

Sign up for our various e-newsletters featuring mental health and substance use resources.