Funds for new mums and babies

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Uniting Church members have engaged in a number of letter-writing campaigns organised by the Commission for Mission urging the Federal Government to take concrete action to prevent FASD (Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder) and provide support to children impacted by the disorder.

“FASD describes a range of cognitive, learning, behavioural and development abnormalities caused to unborn children by women drinking alcohol during pregnancy,” Dr Mark Zirnsak, director of the synod’s Justice and International Mission (JIM) unit, said.

“Research released in 2010 by the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation showed that one in three Australian women were drinking alcohol while pregnant or breastfeeding.”

Dr Zirnsak said that in spite of relatively high levels of alcohol consumption in this country, Australian governments have done less to address the issue of FASD compared to countries like Canada and France.

He said the JIM unit welcomed the June announcement of $9.2 million funding from the federal government for a National FASD Action Plan. The funding will be used to help paediatricians and other clinicians diagnose FASD. The government will provide $3.1 million for grants to drug and alcohol services to support alcohol dependent women and establish a FASD Technical Network. Professor of Paediatrics and Child Health, Elizabeth Elliott, will chair the network, which will provide further advice on measures to prevent FASD and support programs to assist those afflicted with the disorder.

The Victorian government has also recognised the importance of addressing the impact of FASD in the community. It recently announced $4 million in funding for a four-bed residential unit where mothers can stay with their babies while tackling addiction issues.

The facility will be co-located with UnitingCare ReGen’s existing adult residential withdrawal service in Heidelberg.

ReGen CEO Laurence Alvis described the funding as a significant step forward for alcohol and other drug treatment in Victoria.

“Until now, we have seen the impact of withdrawal services that are unable to meet the needs of mothers with young children,” Mr Alvis said.

“We have seen women unable to complete residential withdrawal because of the stress of being separated from their children. We know that there are many women, for whom the prospect of placing their baby or young children in the care of another person for seven to ten days is an insurmountable barrier.”

Dr Zirnsak thanked those who had taken the time to write to the government on this issue.

“We have been advocating for this initiative for several years and it represents a significant step forward in making treatment services more accessible for women with young children,” he said.

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