child playing with trains

Reframing the Approach to FASD Prevention and Treatment

by Danielle Rana

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) is the leading cause of preventable developmental disability among Canadian children.The result of prenatal alcohol exposure, it can cause lifelong challenges with an individual’s motor skills, physical health, learning, communication and social skills. 

In 2018, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) released findings of a large-scale study conducted across the Greater Toronto Area, which attempted to capture an accurate number for elementary school-aged children living with FASD. The results showed that the population-based prevalence of FASD is likely to range between 2% and 3%, a number significantly higher than previously thought (approximately 1.8%)2. While numbers fluctuate between communities and provinces, the study provides the first population-based estimate of the prevalence of FASD among elementary school students in Canada.

The CAMH study showed that FASD is underdiagnosed and that it appears across socioeconomic strata. There are also harmful stigmas associated with FASD and as a result, women often choose not to pursue support for fear of judgement.

The YWCA has been providing holistic support for families impacted by FASD since 1994. Services are primarily offered at YWCA Crabtree Corner Community Resource Centre and include outreach, advocacy, one-to-one support groups and educational workshops from our FASD Key Workers, Family

Support Worker and an Indigenous Elder

This year, thanks to a generous grant from the Public Health Agency of Canada, we are embarking on a new three-year applied research project aimed to shift attitudes and reduce the prevalence of FASD in marginalized communities. 

This project will engage individuals with lived experience with FASD alongside community partners to design and test new and innovative FASD prevention strategies. We will consider non-traditional formats and communications strategies such as comic strips, theatre scripts, healing workshops and others, and share our learning in a toolkit that can be used by community agencies across the country to develop their own FASD prevention strategies.

In addition to reducing the prevalence of FASD, this new project also aims to combat the stigma women face surrounding FASD. Historically, a woman’s consumption of alcohol during pregnancy has been seen as a personal or moral failing on her part, when in fact it is often a response to trauma, systemic racism, violence and poverty. Through this project, the YWCA aims to educate the public on the social determinants of FASD and create prevention strategies that are women-centered, culturally sensitive and effective.


1 Province of British Columbia. “Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder: Building on Strengths, A Provincial Plan for British Columbia 2008-2018.” Accessed November 2017.


To support women and families impacted by FASD at YWCA Crabtree Corner, contact Adina Spivak at 604 895 5789 |