Nunavut education officials deflect questions about FASD training for teachers
Territorial government doesn’t track number of students with FASD
Neither Education Minister David Joanasie nor the deputy minister of education, Louise Flaherty, provided direct answers earlier this month to questions about whether Nunavut teachers get any training to help them spot the signs of fetal alcohol syndrome disorder, or FASD.
Iqaluit-Manirajak MLA Adam Lightstone had asked the questions in the Nunavut legislature’s committee of the whole, when MLAs were going through the budget of the Department of Education.
“With regard to FASD, there’s speculation that there’s a large number of individuals in the territory that are undiagnosed with FASD,” Lightstone said.
FASD is the clinical term for a range of permanent mental and physical disabilities experienced by those exposed to alcohol inside their mothers’ wombs.
Some of the most common symptoms of FASD, and its best-known variant, fetal alcohol syndrome, or FAS, include a permanently damaged brain and nervous system, leading to mental retardation, poor impulse control and various mental health problems.
“I understand that students diagnosed with FASD have very high requirements and may require special rooms that allow them to be more focused or to allow them to actually focus on their work,” Lightstone said.
FASD is a form of permanent, irreversible brain damage requiring a medical diagnosis that only doctors are qualified to provide. So teachers must make a referral to determine whether a child suffers from FASD.
In September 2013, Justice Robert Kilpatrick, then the senior judge of the Nunavut Court of Justice, slammed the Government of Nunavut when he learned the territorial government had no ability to diagnose or treat people born with FASD.
At the time, he was sentencing a 23-year-old Iqaluit man who had pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting a sleeping woman.
The lack of a diagnosis meant that the man’s lawyer could not provide the court with evidence proving that his client suffered from FASD.
“The Department of Health’s failure to provide these diagnostic services within the territory results in more delay in the provision of this service and greater cost to the taxpayer,” Kilpatrick said at that time.
“The Government of Nunavut and its taxpayers end up footing the bill regardless of which department is ultimately mandated to cover the expenses associated with the diagnosis.”
The answers that Flaherty and Joanasie provided last month suggest Nunavut is still ill-prepared to cope with FASD.
Joanasie, for example, did not directly answer the training question. Instead, he handed it off to Flaherty.
She replied by saying that that when “children are identified,” teachers are “supported by the school team with the resources in how to deal with keeping the children on task and by providing what kind of spaces the child requires.”
Although she did not refer to FASD specifically, she later said teachers make these referrals to the school team from the “get-go.”
But neither Joanasie nor Flaherty stated whether teachers get training to help them recognize the signs of FASD.
And they could not state how many Nunavut children are referred for an FASD diagnosis or treatment.
Joanasie did admit, however, that Nunavut does not track those numbers.
“The member is right in that there are many that have undiagnosed FASD. We are not even able to track, we have no tracking available to say how many “X” amount of students require support for FASD,” he said.