Nunavut education officials deflect questions about FASD training for teachers

Territorial government doesn’t track number of students with FASD

This graphic was produced in the United States by the Centers for Disease Control in 2015 to promote awareness of the human and financial costs of FASD.

By Nunatsiaq News

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.

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(11) Comments:

  1. Posted by Dave on

    Here is one of the biggest problems with FASD, that nobody likes to talk about…………… if Mom refuses to admit she drank during her pregnancy, who in the system has the power to decide she is lying? Nobody.
    Everyone is a room knows the child has FASD, Mom says No, and it ends there.

    There are lots of resources to help these kids and the jails are full of undiagnosed FASD adults, but almost no Moms will admit it and their kids suffer.

    Which begs the question……. what is the point of tracking?

  2. Posted by Crystal Clarity on

    Only a paediatrician can make a diagnosis of FASD. Parents would have to give consent for such a referral and examination also and not many would give consent because they would have to admit to using alcohol while pregnant and own up to having damaged the foetus in utero.There has been many training sessions regarding FASD in Nunavut schools and communities over the years but no one in a school can diagnose FASD-they can only suspect. Doctors are also somewhat reluctant to do a diagnosis for FASD unless they are convinced that such a diagnosis would actually have some benefit for the child. .The term “mental retardation” is not used anymore but rather “developmentally delayed”. Schools do not “identify” kids with FASD-they may suspect that is the case if they are aware of the family history and there are some physical tell-tale features of kids with FASD but those physical features are not always present.

    • Posted by Really? on

      Been teaching in Nunavut for just over a decade, in a medium sized community: no training sessions or in-services in the school through the regional school board or the Department of Education relating to FAE/FASD have happened in this community during that time.
      I’m curious as to wether this training has actually occurred in any smaller or medium sized communities. Heck, the larger communities too?

      • Posted by Crystal Clarity on

        I am very surprised to hear that. I can’t recall a regional or territorial conference that didn’t have sessions on FASD and your local PD committee (in the school) could have easily set something up if it was a priority for your staff and school. And there indeed have been many public/community initiaives/sessions on FASD that were conducted Nunavut wide. Here’s a couple…

      • Posted by Rob M Adams on

        Thanks for your comments and the links, Crystal. Thanks also “Really” and “GovDep 101” for your comments

        Despite the ongoing benefit derived when departments and agencies interact and collaborate, a condition such as FASD (whether in the cause or diagnosis) is a social Services and Health purview. Education, whether through the classroom or community, is extremely helpful as a PREVENTION tool.

        From a teacher’s perspective, in dealing with child students who are behavior concerns or learning challenges, the student’s condition is of singular importance and the cause is an issue for another professional. I say this without any motive to minimize the significance of the cause – only to highlight the teacher’s business. It is not the teacher’s business (per se) about whether a child is ‘disabled’ because of FASD or another reason. As others have indicated these are matters of privacy and health, at the very least.

        The psychologist or medical professional who is involved in the child’s diagnosis, assessment or treatment, and who makes recommendations to the Student Support professional, parent, Social Worker, …. might uncover alcohol, tobacco, other drugs, caffeine, malnutrition, social stress, disease, genetics, age, injury, …. as potential causes of a child’s condition and behavior. Sometimes the toxin is present in the student’s home and community, sometimes it comes during or before pregnancy, sometimes the child is ingesting it before our eyes.

        I think we need be respectful of our fellows and prudent with our mandates. For every action, there is an equal an opposite one.

  3. Posted by #Woke Folk on

    This is a big problem, and one barely talked about, in the North. A 2011 study conducted in Northern Quebec, with a sample of 208 women, suggested that 92% of women surveyed smoked while pregnant, while 61% drank.

    I don’t think it’s a stretch to infer similar numbers in Nunavut. If so, this may be one of the single greatest barriers to the future success of Nunavut Inuit there is.

  4. Posted by Gov departments 101 on

    Wondering what the Health department has to say… It is a health issue. How is Education supposed to know?

  5. Posted by No surprise on

    Ask yourself why the GN refuses to let children in the territory be assessed & identified with this?
    Alcohol is just part of the problem –exposure to drugs prior to birth seems to be increasing.
    In the US: 1 in 20 –in Nunavut closer to half of that, if not worse. The GN under supports its children in schools. The actively work to prevent students from being placed on IEP’s, when there is a team meeting with a number of educators who know that that type of programming & support is needed.
    The amount of time that teaches must devote to teaching, managing & dealing with higher needs 1/2 the day is spent dealing with behaviours. In one classroom, there might 4, 5, 6 students who need continuous one-on-one support, but there are only a couple of classroom assistants for an entire school. Were they in many other parts of Canada, would each qualify for & receive individual support. Students means that other students receive far less teacher time.
    Why are there no educational psychologists in Nunavut, to assess students, support schools and teachers in meeting the needs of learners?
    Could this possibly be one of the factors impacting teacher shortages in Nunavut? Teacher burn-out, and frustration with lack of support for learners is real. And so the gN then hires people with no teaching qualifications — this is likely to be an increasing reality in Nunavut.

  6. Posted by Courtney Lock on

    I am an Aboriginal FASD Educator and counsellor to those affected by FASD or Prenatal Drug Exposure, I am dismayed to hear that there are no supports in the N for etoh and drug affected children, youth and adults. Dx is not alway completed by a Paediatrician but by a larger team of multi-disciplinary professionals as the effects of prenatal substances may impact various and numerous domains in baby.
    I encourage schools to incorporate numerous tools that are available in the classrooms to assist and support the children, they are and can be beneficial but not cure all for a damaged brain. ‘When in doubt treat as is’ with best practice tools, they may be helpful. It is imperative that teachers and school personal have the additional education and tools to support possible FASD children as the general teaching strategies are counter productive.
    There is an Online FASD course available from Camosun College in BC. I encourage the Community and school district to make it financially available to those people who are teaching and guiding our young children and youth, as well as those working in heath services on reserve or communities.

  7. Posted by Monica Connolly on

    A teacher cannot diagnose FAS, but teachers ought to have training to recognize a learning problem of some sort, and if initial attempts at accommodation don’t work, alert psychologists and doctors. An accomodation can be as simple as having a classmate proof written work for errors, or typing, which is usually easier than developing legible handwriting for those with small-motor problems, or as complex as ADHD or FAS or brain injury.

    • Posted by Alert what psychologists? on

      Our school has around 100 students. Of those, 2 are identified –that’s it.
      There are many more –no formal assessments. You are right, teacher’s shouldn’t be diagnosing students: but here is the thing: no one else is doing it. Schools & teachers are left to do the best that they can.

      School boards across Canada have their own Educational Psychologists. Does Nunavut even have one?
      While we are at it: why does’t every Nunavut community have at least one child & youth worker?

      We have a handful of students that we have been trying for years to have assessed — GN refused to pay for/cover it, then they changed their minds — we have kids who’ve been on wait lists for 2+ years to be seen by a psychologist– a couple in upper elementary, 2 more in junior high, 1 high school student. These are kids that need full-time one-on-one support to be successful –there are many more students that have less severe challenges, but yet it is obvious they were exposed to alcohol and other things before they were born. Outside of Nunavut, these kids would qualify, for at least partial one-on-one support. Modification of work and other types of accommodations don’t come close to meeting the needs of those kids. These individuals often bother their classmates & impact the learning of others. There are multiple individuals in any given class- attitudes and behaviour are over the top and a lot of the teacher’s time is spent having to manage these 3 or 4 kids, at the expense of other kids in the class.

      Why have these kids not been assessed as young children –flagged as toddlers or pre-schoolers by the health centre to be seen by a paediatrician and referred out for further assessments. Perhaps they have been, but then they(nurses & doctors) too, meet the resistance from the GN, that school personnel face, when trying to move things along to the next level when clearly more things need to be happening for a kid. The other huge factor, is parents who refuse to let their child be assessed. Social services is no where to be seen–they are dealing with other things.
      Our kids deserve so much better.

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