Asante Centre Resources

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is linked to a variety of adverse life outcomes including trouble with school and work, inappropriate sexual behaviours, confinement in hospitals or correctional institutions, and victimization.

Individuals with FASD are also disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system and experience high rates of substance abuse and mental health problems. Adolescence and early adulthood reflect particularly critical developmental periods during which there is an increased risk for problematic behaviour and continued engagement in serious substance abuse patterns and criminal justice system involvement. In spite of these known challenges, there is a gap in knowledge with respect to our understanding of how best to meet the treatment needs of justice-involved individuals living with FASD or similar intellectual or developmental disabilities.

The overall purpose of this project was to review and summarize various sources of evidence and knowledge regarding potentially effective and promising practices in substance abuse treatment for youth with FASD, and in particular, for those young people living with FASD who are involved in the criminal justice system. The project included three main components designed to ascertain various perspectives and sources of knowledge:

1) A review of the empirical and grey literature summarizing factors underlying substance abuse among justice-involved youth with FASD to identify promising practices.

2) A survey of practices and promising approaches employed by substance abuse treatment programs who serve individuals with FASD.

3) A community-based focus group held with a panel of multidisciplinary experts spanning a range of FASD, justice, and substance abuse treatment expertise to gauge barriers and promising practices for clients with FASD currently enrolled in treatment.

Read the Executive Summary for more information, or contact the Asante Centre to access the full research report.

FASD and Communication Disability: Strategies for Youth in the Legal System

Many youth with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and other brain-based disabilities who are involved in the legal system as offenders, witnesses and victims, can find the language-heavy system overwhelming to navigate.  Communication impairments are common, creating barriers to appropriate engagement in legal processes from interviewing through to court hearings and following probation orders.  The Asante Centre was pleased to receive funding from the Victoria Foundation's FASD Action Fund to collaboratively develop a comprehensive curriculum for both caregivers and service providers on supporting youth with FASD and communication impairment through various levels of involvement in the justice system.

The "FASD and Communication Disability: Strategies for Youth in the Legal System" curriculum is available as a free download for use by qualified presenters throughout Canada.  For research purposes, please fill in your contact information where asked in order for us to track where the curriculum is being used. 

Access the curriculum materials to learn more.  Please note: Due to the large file size, download time may be significant.

Youth Probation Officer's Guide to FASD Screening and Referral

In a one year study of youth remanded to a forensic psychiatric inpatient assessment unit, 23.3% were diagnosed with FASD (Conry et al., 1997).  Similar rates of confirmed (10%) and possible (18%)  FASD in a Canadian adult prison have been found (MacPherson and Chudley, 2007).  The overall prevalence rates of FASD in the population are estimated at 2-5% (May et al, 2009).  Therefore, people with FASD are clearly disproportionately represented in the justice system.  The Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA) stipulates that special considerations need to be made for young offenders with special needs, including FASD, to rehabilitate and prevent or reduce recidivism.  A youth with FASD may have cognitive and adaptive skills developmentally younger than their stated age.  Consequently, many of the YCJA provisions that are based on chronological age are inherently detrimental to these youths’ fair treatment.   However, in order for special considerations to be given, the special needs must be identified. 

Through its Youth Justice FASD Program and research initiatives, the Asante Centre has developed a screening tool and referral process for use by youth probation officers that has been found to be effective in identifying youth who are likely to receive an FASD diagnosis, when assessed.   The FASD Screening and Referral Tool for Youth Probation Officers and accompanying guidebook were selected for use by communities and professionals across Canada by the Taskforce for the Development of FASD Screening Tools.  The tool has been included in the National Screening Tool Kit for Children and Youth Identified and Potentially Affected by FASD, by the Canadian Association of Pediatric Health Centres (CAPHC).

The "Youth Probation Officers' Guide to FASD Screening and Referral" and accompanying guidebook are available as a free download:

FASD LIterature

Asante Centre Resources

FASD Prevention

Community Education & Training

Website resources

Education & Resources Homepage