Juneau vies for funds to fight fetal alcohol syndrome

Towns submit proposals on how to battle the problem

Posted: Tuesday, June 06, 2000

Juneau has the opportunity to hop on the bandwagon with six other Alaska communities in developing its own multidisciplinary team to fight fetal alcohol syndrome, the brain damage caused by a woman drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

But it won't be an overnight conquest, said L. Diane Worley of Juneau, statewide FAS coordinator with the Department of Health and Social Services.

``It's a competitive process, where we put together a request for proposals, ask the community for certain things, and then ask them to submit a concept paper,'' Worley said. The concept paper answers questions such as whether any FAS interventions or services are already in place. It tells coordinators whether the community is ready for this next step.

In the program's first year, six proposals were submitted and three communities were judged ready: the Copper Valley region, the Yukon-Kuskokwim area and the Bristol Bay area, Worley said.

``We are getting financial support from the Copper River Native Association, and we want to keep going and expand,'' said psychiatric nurse Gay Wellman, coordinator for the FAS team in the Copper Valley region.

The multidisciplinary team will not simply diagnose, Wellman said.

``We need to wrap around services for the people caught in this problem, for adults as well as school-age children. It's not about blame and shame. It's about supportive services rather than labels,'' Wellman said.

For Juneau to become part of this growing network, six residents must form a team. Each February, three teams go to the University of Washington for three days of training with doctors there.

Drinking while pregnant can lead to brain deformities and neurological changes that lead to a lifetime of problems.

The statewide network of teams is being developed because previous FAS intervention was insufficient, Worley said.

National FAS prevalence rates range from 0.1 to 0.7 per 1,000 live births, according to a 1995 U.S. Centers for Disease Control report. In Alaska, the estimated FAS prevalence rate is 1 to 1.4 cases per 1,000 live births, according to preliminary data from the Alaska FAS Surveillance Project.

``The department took this on at the end of 1997 because we realized we weren't doing enough in the FAS field,'' Worley said. The three movers and shakers behind the plan were Health and Social Services commissioner Karen Perdue; Rep. Reggie Joule, a Kotzebue Democrat; and Rep. Fred Dyson, an Eagle River Republican.

``They sat down and realized we needed to address this because it crosses over from the mental health system to the school system to the prison system to the welfare system,'' Worley said.

The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority agreed to fund the task force program with $300,000 for each of three years.

This year's requests for proposals will go out in mid-August. Juneau will apply. Worley also expects applications from Nome and Barrow, and perhaps Ketchikan and Kodiak.

For information about the network and how to become eligible for training, call Worley at 465-3033, or 800-478-2072, statewide.

For more information about FAS, call the Alaska Foster Parent Training Center at 1-800-478-7307; the Stone Soup Group at 907-561-3701; or the Alaska Genetics & Birth Defects Clinics at 1-800-799-7570. For information on the Web, go to juneauempire.com and click on HotLinks.

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