Finding families for children affected by foetal alcohol and drugs

The use of drugs and alcohol by pregnant women is a serious problem that research has shown to be on the increase. A recent BBC documentary: Pissed and Pregnant (part of the Binge Britain series) revealed that the number of children affected cannot be reliably estimated, but experts estimate that around 7,000 children living in the UK were born with lifelong, incurable problems, caused by their mother's drinking during pregnancy. A number of these children are in the looked-after population and some will need to be place with families permanently.

According to research from the University of Washington/US National Centre for Health Statistics, one in 100 babies are born with FASD – more than the number with Down's Syndrome, cerebral palsy, cystic fibrosis and spina bifida.

If women drink during pregnancy, particularly in the first trimester, there is an increased risk of miscarriage, restricted growth of the child or serious developmental problems. Foetal alcohol and drugs can affect the basic structure of the brain and the way it processes information.

The most commonly used terminology within this field are Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and Foetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS).

FAS/FASD characteristics and possible effects

Pre-natal exposure to alcohol can result in physical and non-physical effects:

  • Attention Deficit Disorder
  • Hyperactivity
  • Learning difficulties
  • Behavioural problems
  • Heart defects
  • Sight problems
  • Hearing problems
  • Facial anomalies
Dr Raja Mukherjee's latest article: Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: An Overview can be read here

Research project

Parents for Children is mounting a major action research project in this area and we are inviting local authorities to refer affected children to be involved. Initially, we will be retrospectively researching our existing placements of foetally-affected children. We are setting up a multi-disciplinary system to identify the needs of each child and ensure these needs are reviewed annually. Those multi-disciplinary links could then feed back into the child's local professional support system. A planned associated paediatric research programme will complement our already established and valued programme of conferences and training seminars, targeted at participants across the professional spectrum.

As a result of referring a child, a local authority will benefit, not only from the placement of the particualr child or child referred, but also from the vast amount of knowledge that will be gained from the experts in the field. The results of our research will beneit future generations of children andguide our thinking into the best ways of managing their needs.

If you are interested in referring a child/children to participate in this project, or if you have any questions about children suffering from maternal drug and alcohol abuse, please contact Jacky Gordon, Development Manager at: [email protected] or on 020 7520 2881.

Conferences - Maternal Alcohol and Drug Abuse

Parents for Children has recently explored the problems faced by children who are affected in multiple ways by their mothers’ drug and alcohol usage and drug-driven lifestyles, particularly in pregnancy, at two conferences: one in London on 22 May 2007 and one in Sheffield on 24 May 2007. Our expert speakers looked at the risks for their future, the potential of the legal system to balance the risks for children; and ways forward.

Full details of the conference agenda and speakers can be found here

For more information about the topics covered during the conference, or to find out about future Parents for Children conferences, please call Charlotte Lindsell on 020 7520 2880 or email [email protected].

These conferences qualified for Continuous Professional Development (CPD) for both the General Social Care Council and the Law Society.

Our complete conference programme can be found here.