FASD Conference in Canada, Nov '23

Aotearoa New Zealand was well represented at the sold-out Canada FASD Conference 2023 hosted by CanFASD and the Alberta and Saskatchewan provincial governments in Saskatoon between 7-9 November 2023. This included our own Principal Advisor, Kim Milne (centre in photo with sunglasses), who funded her own trip to take advantage of this exceptional learning opportunity. 

New Zealand was also represented by (left to right above) Tania Henderson (presenting on 'Whanau, Whanaungatanga, Whakawhanaungatanga – Creating Supports Through Connections'), Rose Hawkins (Oranga Tamariki), Dr Andi Crawford (front – co-lead on the review of the FASD Diagnostic guidelines) and Tina Lomax (Kingslea School). Another New Zealand family had travelled to find out more about FASD in order to best help their son.

Kim is particularly interested in what was happening in the education, mental health, housing and caregiver safety spaces. She was able to attend sessions on each of these areas, and network with others to further develop New Zealand-based initiatives.  

The list of some of the presentations below attended by Kim shows the range of initiatives and issues covered at the conference.

Creating a Felt Safety Program for Children Affected by FASD. The Programme facilitator talked about helping  “children from hard places”, and the focus on brain-based parenting and playful engagement.

Building a Positive Relational Framework for Students with FASDstressed the importance of relational connections and referred participants to an April 2021 report entitled Excluded: Increasing Understanding, support and inclusion for children with FASD and their families.

Shining Through: promoting strengths-based approaches in British Columbia education where they are now adopting the P.A.T.H. planning tool to set goals and life directions and seeking to reframe complexity as opportunity.

What Creates Educational Success – a journey from Preschool to Graduationwas a lived-experience presentation where they talked about everything the school did was based on the question: “How is this going to set the student up for the future?”

Matthew Sinclair gave a lived-experience presentation about the stigma he has faced, his ‘stabilisation’ as an adult at around 37 years of age, the benefits he found in having a medic alert bracelet identifying his FASD, and of traditional healing practices.

Weathering the Storm: (AFCCA) Aggression Toward Families/Caregivers in Childhood & Adolescence. A very familiar tale was told to that experienced by caregivers in Aotearoa, and of how they were developing an intervention and support programme.  Presenters noted that development of this programme had opened the floodgates for training and support enquiries.

Watch the video on this subject here.

We need to do better: Barriers and opportunities for housing solutions for Canadians with FASD.  In this presentation the CHoOSE Project for housing was discussed and the successful NEFAN Housing Programme; it is clear New Zealand is facing very similar housing issues to Canada – but with fewer resources.

Suicidality in Individuals with FASD: Identifying Effective and Valid Risk Assessment Tools.  This presentation highlighted suicide as the leading cause of death for people with FASD and discussed the research being done to identify an effective risk assessment tool for those with FASD where high impulsivity is common.

Perspectives on Suicidality in FASD. Presenters noted the research team were able to obtain funding for their study under the Canadian national suicide prevention strategy. In this presentation the need to educate caregivers about this issue was identified, as was the fact that New Zealand is experiencing the same issues facing Canada. 

Note: The above presentation/s are not available online but the Canadian Mental Health Commission Suicide Risk Assessment Toolkit (2021) for professionals is available here and the comparable NZ Ministry of Health Guidelines (2003) is available here.

Kim found the Conference rich with information, sharing and camaraderie. Everyone loved being able to meet in person again and make those invaluable and affirming connections, and Kim has taken away a number of ideas for the development of further resources and initiatives to help caregivers and people with FASD.

The next Canadian FASD Conference will take place in Toronto in 2025.