7 April 2011

A UQ interdisciplinary research team has been awarded $64,000 from the Alcohol Education and Research Foundation to conduct a one-year research project into Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD).

Led by TC Beirne School of Law Associate Professor Heather Douglas, the interdisciplinary team includes UQ Centre for Clinical Research (UQCCR) Indigenous enthnographer and child health worker Dr Janet Hammill AO; UQCCR addictions expert Professor Wayne Hall; and author and advocate for parents and carers of individuals with FASD, Elizabeth Russell.

Dr Douglas said the research project would investigate the level of knowledge, attitudes, practices and training deficits within Queensland criminal justice agencies regarding FASD and provide data unique to Australia.

"This research has the potential not only to inform and reform the policing, judicial and correctional systems but also to uphold the human rights of individuals with disabilities, and drive a broad and innovative health awareness agenda to reduce the incidence of FASD," Dr Douglas said.

Alcohol use in pregnancy could lead to a range of physical, behavioural and cognitive sequelae (consequences) in the child and Dr Douglas said some evidence also suggested that light or low-to-moderate alcohol use in pregnancy could also cause more subtle, alcohol-related neuro-developmental disorders.

"The level of knowledge and understanding of FASD in the justice system is currently unknown even though those afflicted with the condition are likely to be over-represented in the criminal justice system," she said.

"In circumstances where FASD is unidentified, defendants may be inappropriately dealt with by the justice process. The probable higher prevalence of FASD among criminal justice defendants is likely to have major implications for service delivery, since it is unclear whether staff employed in criminal justice agencies are equipped to identify and deal with those experiencing the consequences of FASD."

Dr Douglas said the proposed research stemmed from public comments by advocates within the justice system who suggested there was a need for increased awareness of FASD in this sector.

"The research will provide a better understanding of individuals with FASD in the criminal justice system and will raise awareness of the difficulties that are experienced," she said.

"Understanding FASD may be relevant to sentencing practices and appropriate sentencing could reduce recidivism rates. The findings will also highlight the need for increased public health care activities and legislation to prevent FASD, while driving human rights based model of care within custodial services."

Media: Dr. Heather Douglas on 07 3365 6605 or Shirley Glaister at UQ Communication on 3365 2802.