Knowledge, attitudes, and practices of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in health, justice, and education professionals: A systematic review

Jessica C. McCormack, Joanna Ting Wai Chu, Samantha Marsh, Chris Bullen, Knowledge, attitudes, and practices of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in health, justice, and education professionals: A systematic review, Research in Developmental Disabilities, Volume 131, 2022, 104354,
ISSN 0891-4222,


Background and Aims

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is one of the most common forms of developmental disability, and yet, anecdotally, is poorly understood by both the public and professionals across health, justice, education, and social services.

This review aims to understand the knowledge, attitudes, and practices of professionals who work across a range of sectors – specifically health, education and justice – where they may encounter people with FASD, their families and caregivers.


We conducted a systematic search for research using surveys or questionnaires to address knowledge, and attitudes of professionals in health, education, and justice with regards to FASD between 1990 and 2021. Our search consisted of electronic databases (APA PsychInfo, CINAHL, EMBASE, Medline, PubMed, and PAIS Index) and grey literature sources.


Our search yielded 971 results, of which 58 were relevant. The studies surveyed professionals from health (n = 35), education (n = 10), justice (n = 8), social services (n = 1), and multiple settings (n = 4). Most studies were conducted in North America. The areas surveyed included knowledge of FASD, attitudes towards people with FASD, experience with FASD, practices towards people with FASD, and education and training needs.


Knowledge, attitudes, and practices towards FASD have been surveyed extensively in healthcare professionals over the last 30 years, but less so with those working in justice and education sectors. Findings from surveys suggest that although most professionals had some knowledge of the effects of FASD, their knowledge of the specific criteria of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) and FASD is poor across most professional groups, including most health professionals. Our review highlights the need to provide training and information across sectors ongoing surveillance to determine where gaps in knowledge are and what resources are needed.

What this paper adds

This study is the first to systematically synthesize knowledge, attitudes, and practices toward FASD across different sectors. Poor knowledge and insufficient training were common. Knowledge, attitudes, and practices about FASD have been surveyed extensively in the healthcare setting, but surveys are more limited outside of this setting. Continuous surveillance is needed to identify and respond to knowledge gaps and changes in practice.

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