Background and Objective

Care providers in the child welfare system often support children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Women who give birth to children with FASD face many multi-dimensional socio-structural challenges, including prenatal substance use, that lead to their children being placed in care. Alcohol use disorders have strong associations to trauma histories, psychiatric problems, adverse experiences in life, and other substance use. Children with FASD experience abuse and neglect along with other forms of adversities in childhood and adolescence at higher rates than other children, and are often kept in the care of the child welfare system. Risks of harm for children and youth with FASD exist due to distinct vul- nerabilities associated with the disability. Even with child welfare intervention, adverse outcomes remain for children and youth with FASD. Our objective was to examine reports generated from Child Advocate offices in Canada on deaths and serious injuries where FASD was identified to gain a deeper understanding of the experiences of this population in the child welfare system.

Material and methods

We employed an intersectionality-based policy analysis (IBPA) framework to analyze child welfare reports from 1989 to 2019 available online publicly from Child Advocate (or equivalent jurisdiction) Offices across Canada. An underpinning theoretical framework in this research was life course theory, as it is critical to rec- ognize the connection that exists between early decisions made for infants and children with FASD and later outcomes in life. Reports were included when there was evidence of FASD or prenatal substance exposure in the report. Sequential Excel spreadsheets were employed for data extraction, and individual word documents were generated for each report specific to the IBPA framework. Thematic analysis was employed to identify themes related to serious injuries or deaths in child and youth, report summaries, and recommendations.


A total of 61 reports were reviewed, and deaths of 17 children or adolescents with FASD were reported. Four categories of reports existed, including investigative death reports, investigative serious injury reports, special reports, and annual reports. Key themes from these reports for this population included: (1) challenges to stability and permanency, (2) challenges to FASD-informed service provision, (3) over- representation of Indigenous children and youth, and (4) presence of concurrent mental health challenges. Recommendations within reports addressed needs of individuals, families, care providers, systems, and policies. There were many consistencies across time and jurisdictions. One notable concern was that FASD, while possible, was often not diagnosed, and therefore supports and services specific to this disability were not provided. It is critical to note that these reports served to document both a child’s history and make key policy and practice recommendations to inform a differential response in the child welfare system in the case of FASD.


This analysis illuminated the risks and vulnerabilities for this population in the child welfare system and has implications for assessment, diagnosis, and practice interventions in responding to the needs of this population. This analysis also identified that many opportunities exist to improve practice and service delivery for individuals with FASD and their families. It is critical to recognize that a connection exists between early decisions made for infants and children with FASD and later outcomes in life.

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