Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: Legal Issues

Many children and families involved in the child welfare system, as well as the juvenile justice and adult criminal systems, are affected by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD). While FASD is often not fully understood by child and family legal advocates, knowing its implications for affected clients is essential to effective representation.

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders (FASD)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), FASD is a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. FASD includes a range of disorders that depend on the type of symptoms the person experiences, including:

  • Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS). FAS represents the severe end of the FASD spectrum. People with FAS might have abnormal facial features, growth problems, and central nervous system problems. They can have problems with learning, memory, attention span, communication, vision, or hearing. These symptoms may lead to difficulties in school and limited interpersonal skills.

  • Alcohol-Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder (ARND). People with ARND might have intellectual disabilities, problems with behavior and learning, and difficulties with math, memory, attention, judgment, and poor impulse control.

  • Alcohol-Related Birth Defects (ARBD). People with ARBD may have problems with their heart, kidneys, or bones, with hearing, or with a combination of these symptoms.


Learn More

National Institutes of Health (NIH) Fact Sheet on FASD

NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

NIAAA’s FAS page 

The FASD Center For Excellence, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

CDC’s FASD Homepage

National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Minnesota Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome


Criminal Justice System

Practice Tips 

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Many of the materials presented here are made available through collaboration with the FASD Legal Issues Resource Center, a program based at the University of Washington School of Law and the Fetal Alcohol and Drug Unit of the University's School of Medicine.