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American Bar Association Urges Lawyers to Understand Alcohol-Related Birth Disorders

American Bar Association Urges Lawyers to Understand Alcohol-Related Birth Disorders

By Daniel Buchanan

CHICAGO, Aug. 14, 2012 —The American Bar Association’s House of Delegates, by unanimous voice vote, approved a resolution calling upon the legal profession to receive training to better identify and aid children and adults involved in the justice system who have Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders due to prenatal alcohol exposure.

FASD is a group of conditions that can occur in individuals whose mother drank during pregnancy, and can result in birth defects, growth and development deficits, and life-long attention, learning and functioning problems. The incidence of FASD is estimated to be as high as 2-5 percent among younger school children. Because as many as 60 percent of those with FASD have a history of trouble with the law — with the average age of initial juvenile justice system contact being 12.8 years — the ABA calls for enhancing FASD awareness among lawyers and judges, including the value of interdisciplinary collaboration to better help those with these conditions.

According to attorney Robert Schwartz, director of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia and chair of the ABA’s Commission on Youth at Risk that originally sponsored the resolution, “all those involved with at-risk youth, the juvenile justice and child welfare systems, and the adult criminal court process must become more familiar with the impact of FASD.” He also said that “new laws and policies should promote diagnosis and access to treatment so we can better assist those affected by it.” Judge Michael Jeffrey of the Alaska Superior Court, 2nd Judicial District in Barrow, Alaska, who attended the House of Delegates meeting, regularly sees children, youth and adults adversely affected by FASD and calls this “an issue of deep significance to the justice system.”

In February 2012 the ABA held a half-day continuing legal education program on how attorneys and judges should respond to FASD, at the association’s Midyear Meeting in New Orleans. That program was recorded and will shortly be available to those wishing to learn more about this issue. Materials on the legal aspects of FASD, and links to other FASD-related resources, are available on the web site of the ABA Center on Children and the Law at:

www.americanbar.org/groups/child_law/what_we_do/projects/child_and_adolescent_health/fasd.html

With nearly 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is the largest voluntary professional membership organization in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law.

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For further information, or to obtain a copy of this FASD resolution and report, contact: Howard Davidson, director, ABA Center on Children and the Law, 202/662-1740  or howard.davidson@americanbar.org

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