The Tipping Point: Translation of research outcomes from the first prevalence study of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder among sentenced youth in Australia

Clinical Associate Professor Raewyn Mutch2, Hayley Passmore2

2University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia

Objectives: Neurodevelopmental impairments such as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) can predispose young people to engagement with the law. This presentation will discuss how translation of research outcomes from the first prevalence study of FASD among sentenced young people in Australia has been a tipping point for change; change across health, child protection and justice policy and practices. Key drivers for change, their hierarchy, utility and capacity for generalisation to other jurisdictions will be described.

Methods: Screening and multidisciplinary neurodevelopmental clinical assessments were completed on young people, aged 10 years to 17 years and 11 months, and sentenced to detention in the only youth detention centre in Western Australia. FASD was diagnosed according to the Australian Guide to the Diagnosis of FASD.

Results: 99 young people completed a full assessment (88% of those consented; 60% of the 166 approached to participate); 93% were male and 74% were Aboriginal. These young people were a representative sample of all young people in detention in Western Australia. 88 young people (89%) had at least one domain of severe neurodevelopmental impairment, and 36 were diagnosed with FASD, a prevalence of 36% (95% CI 27% to 46%). The majority of young people with FASD had severe impairment in academic, attention, executive functioning and/or language domains.

Conclusions: These findings highlight the vulnerability of young people with neurodevelopmental impairments involved with the justice system. Translation of the research outcomes have become a tipping point for change to policy and practice across Australia.


Clinical Associate Professor Raewyn Mutch is a specialist paediatrician with qualifications recognised across three disciplines (i) general paediatrics, (ii) community paediatrics and (iii) respiratory medicine.Raewyn is a consultant paediatrician in General Paediatrics and Refugee Health at the Perth Children’s Hospital in Western Australia. Raewyn is an Indigenous woman of Ngai Tahu, New Zealand. Raewyn has a proven track record of clinical and research work, teaching, advocacy, education and CPD resource development among culturally and linguistically diverse families, neurodevelopment and justice disciplines, researching knowledge attitudes and practices (KAP), closing identified gaps in care, translating new knowledge and building capacities to improve social and emotional wellbeing for individuals and their communities, for clinical practices and policies, nationally. Raewyn completed the Harvard Certificate in Global Mental Health: Trauma and Recovery (HPRT) Certificate in 2015-2016. Raewyn was invited to join the HPRT Faculty for the 2019-2020 Certificate Course. In November, Raewyn gave the first lecture ever in the 15 year history of the HPRT course on an “Holistic Approach to Traumatized Children and Adolescents”.

Hayley Passmore is a final year PhD Candidate at the Telethon Kids Institute and School of Paediatrics and Child Health, The University of Western Australia. Hayley has qualifications in Criminology and Psychology. She has previous experience working with adult offenders and their families, and with vulnerable children and families across Western Australia.

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