Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD): Knowledge, attitudes, experiences and practices of the Western Australian youth custodial workforce [2018]

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is a condition caused by prenatal alcohol exposure and characterised by lifelong physical, behavioural and cognitive abnormalities. Primary disabilities, such as impairment in memory, attention, cognition, language, executive function, and adaptive function, can lead to young people with FASD becoming engaged with the justice system. Little is known about the extent of FASD in youth detention in Australia, or of the capacity custodial staff have to manage and support young people with FASD. In tandem with a study assessing the prevalence of FASD among youth in detention in Western Australia (WA), this study aims to establish the current knowledge, attitudes, experiences and practices regarding FASD and other neurodevelopmental impairments among youth custodial officers in order to develop training resources for this workforce.

We invited youth custodial officers in the only youth detention centre in WA to participate in an online or hardcopy survey. The survey was developed following extensive consultation with the workforce and investigated their knowledge, attitudes, experiences and practices relating to FASD and other neurodevelopmental impairments. This included experience working with young people with FASD and other impairments, and attitudes towards relevant training.

112 youth custodial officers (51% of the youth custodial workforce) completed the survey. While many respondents had heard of FASD (77%) and understood it is relevant to the justice system (74%), limited in-depth FASD knowledge existed. Many respondents were unsure or unaware that FASD is permanent brain damage (53%) and cannot be outgrown (57%). Respondents were infrequently informed if a young person in detention had a diagnosis of FASD. Almost all custodial officers indicated motivation to complete training to further understand FASD (92%) and other neurodevelopmental impairments (94%), with particular interest in the application of management strategies appropriate for affected young people.

A lack of specific knowledge, inadequate training to recognise and manage young people with neurodevelopmental impairments, and inconsistent information-sharing processes reduce the ability of the custodial workforce to care for young people with FASD and other neurodevelopmental impairments. These findings have supported the development and evaluation of training resources targeting the specific needs and requests of the WA youth custodial workforce, and this is now underway.

Hayley M. Passmore, Raewyn C. Mutch, Sharyn Burns, Rochelle Watkins, Jonathan Carapetis, Guy Hall, Carol Bower
International Journal of Law and Psychiatry, Volume 59, July–August 2018