How can we improve outcomes for youth offenders in the criminal justice system? It’s a critical question Dr. Howard Bloom will explore at an international conference on Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in Vancouver this month. Bloom and his co-researcher Sheila Burns will present findings at the conference from a study they conducted on the Asante Centre Screening and Referral Tool for Youth Probation Officers and its implementation in Simcoe County.
FASD is a neurodevelopmental disability that stems from prenatal exposure to alcohol. It results in primary brain impairments – including thinking and judgment – that can often lead to secondary disorders and youth criminal involvement.
“FASD is an emerging priority in youth justice services,” says Bloom, co-ordinator of the Child and Youth Worker program at Georgian’s Orillia Campus. “Research shows that youth with FASD are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system.”
The Asante Centre Screening and Referral Tool for Youth Probation Officers was distributed informally in Ontario in 2009 and 2010. Reports suggest it was used minimally by probation officers. Bloom and Burns’ study focuses on the impact training can have on improving use of the tool and in growing FASD awareness.
As part of their research, 17 youth probation officers and two managers in a regional youth probation office in Simcoe County participated in a five-hour training session at their workplace on FASD and the tool. A pre- and post-test was administered in conjunction with the training, and an interview with participants followed. Four months after the training, a survey was conducted to assess the effectiveness and usefulness of the tool.
“Based on our findings, we determined that the in-service training enhanced the probation officers’ confidence in incorporating the screening and referral tool into existing procedures, in using it to help tailor their case management and in modifying plans of care,” says Bloom. “Generally, the tool was considered an important resource for improving program delivery and overall client outcomes.”
Some of the challenges the probation officers reported as potential barriers to effective FASD screening, referral and diagnosis include access to prenatal history, stigma for families, funding for assessments that contribute to the diagnostic process, lack of supports for FASD clients and policy limitations.
The research was a component of a 10-month fellowship Georgian College received in 2011-2012. Sheila Burns was Georgian College’s Community Leadership in Justice Fellow from the Law Foundation of Ontario. Other outcomes of the fellowship included:
- The creation of a general education FASD course
- A proposal for an FASD graduate certificate
- A funded conference in May 2012 on FASD and justice
- An online FASD module for both the justice and human service sectors
“We’re thrilled Howard will represent Georgian College at the conference in Vancouver. The research he’s presenting has important implications for youth and professionals working in justice services,” says Mary O-Farrell-Bowers, Dean of the Orillia Campus. “This research and other key outcomes from the fellowship we received last year are helping position us to become leaders in FASD education.”