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Govt invests $18m to address FASD in central Australia

Rudi Maxwell -

The federal government is investing $18.4 million to help children in central Australia with neurodevelopmental issues.

Donna Ah-Chee, chief executive of the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, a health organisation based in Alice Springs, said the funding would help identify children with ADHD, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and autism.

"Congress has known for a long time that if we get the start to life right we can change a child's entire life story," she said.

"If we can assess children early and provide early interventions we can make a big difference.

"We started this critical work in 2018 and now, with these much needed additional resources, we can make sure that many more Aboriginal children and young people across central Australia can get the assessment and help they need to get on to a more healthy development pathway."

Minister for Indigenous Australians Linda Burney said the initiative is part of the $250 million plan for A Better, Safer Future for Central Australia.

The funding will more than double the number of First Nations children with neurodevelopmental issues who can access assessments through the Child and Youth Assessment and Treatment Services (CYATS) program.

Additional staff have already been recruited, including two clinical neuropsychologists, one occupational therapist, two speech pathologists, a clinical case co-ordinator and an Aboriginal family support worker.

CYATS is a specialist service providing formal diagnostic assessment, speech pathology and occupational therapy intervention for Aboriginal children and young people with neurodevelopmental delay or disorder.

The CYATS teams will also be able to work with schools, other service providers and the youth justice system.

FASD describes the range of disabilities in children due to alcohol exposure during pregnancy. 

The impacts may include brain impairments that affect memory and decision-making and physical impairments that may cause defects to the kidneys, heart, lungs, eyes, ears and musculoskeletal system.

Northern Territory Labor Senator Malarndirri McCarthy said expanding the assessment service will mean hundreds of children will be able to receive a diagnosis and early intervention.

"FASD is often referred to as an invisible disability but as far as many families and communities are concerned, it's a very visible part of life with a profound impact on children and their families," she said.

Lingiari MP Marion Scrymgour, whose electorate takes in Alice Springs and surrounding areas, said the funding would make inroads into breaking the cycle of FASD, in a culturally appropriate manner without shaming parents.

"When I recently met with Congress, they told me of generations of families living with and dealing with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD)," she said.

"This is extremely difficult for families - but we also know that undiagnosed FASD can also lead to a lot of issues for the broader community.

"But most importantly, the funding will make a huge difference in the lives of our young people and families in Central Australia." 

According to the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation's Strong Born campaign, children and adults with FASD are disproportionately represented in the areas of justice and child protection.

"Early access to diagnosis and intervention is critical for children, to support academic performance and minimise the risk of developing mental health conditions, such as depression," NACCHO says.

"Adolescents and adults with FASD who do not receive evidence-based support and knowledgeable interventions throughout their life span are at high risk of engaging in suicidal ideation, experiencing early mortality, and becoming involved in the justice system."

13YARN 13 92 76

Aboriginal Counselling Services 0410 539 905

Rudi Maxwell - AAP

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