First workforce qualification for Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder meets urgent need for professional FASD-informed services in Aotearoa

Many professionals across social services, health, justice and education sectors in Aotearoa NZ feel they do not have the knowledge required to meet the needs of people with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

However, a brand-new qualification has now been approved – the first in Aotearoa NZ. The CEO of FASD-CAN Stephanie James-Sadler said, “The lack of understanding of this complex neurodiversity has a major impact on the wellbeing of people with FASD and their whānau. We are excited to announce the approval of a new qualification pathway for frontline professionals, which we hope will greatly help to improve the lives of our loved ones.”

In early 2023 FASD-CAN began discussions with us to address knowledge gaps and the need for specific training. Today FASD-CAN and Toitu te Waiora are pleased to announce that NZQA have approved the Support a person with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) (micro-credential, level 4, credits 10) and two associated skill standards. “This micro-credential is ground-breaking – it’s the first FASD-specific qualification available in Aotearoa and it is definitely something we need to celebrate,” said James-Sadler.

She noted that FASD-CAN was able to support the development of the micro-credential and skill standards through its unique combination of professional expertise alongside the lived experience of its staff and Board. Dr Leigh Henderson, Chair of the FASD-CAN Board, said, “Finally, a qualification that specifically address the needs of people with FASD instead of all the neuro-diversities being treated as if they were the same. While there are similarities, these micro-credential and skill standards recognise the many differences of FASD and acknowledges the uniqueness of all neurodiverse people.”

“We are hoping the micro-credential will be used for professional development in both health and non-health related sectors. And the two new skill standards can be used in various types of NZQA-programmes of study,” said Hayley Semenoff, General Manager Qualifications and Quality Assurance for Toitū te Waiora. Hayley says the purpose of the micro-credential and the two skills standards is to provide knowledge to identify the key characteristics of FASD, and the skill set to provide empowerment and support a person with FASD.

The importance of frontline professionals and caregivers being FASD-informed cannot be understated. An understanding of a brain-based approach to supports and interventions is crucial to ensure people with FASD are appropriately accommodated and supported throughout their lives. This can significantly lessen the social investment required for those with FASD in terms of poor mental health, interaction with the justice system and suicide.

In 2016 the government launched the Taking Action on FASD: 2016-2019, which included an action area to ‘enhance the ability of frontline professionals to recognise and respond effectively and compassionately to people with FASD and other neurodevelopmental impairments’.
Dr Henderson said “FASD-CAN hopes that the implementation of the new micro-credential and skill
standards will be addressed in the revitalisation of the 2016-2019 FASD Action Plan, which the Minister for Health, Dr Shane Reti, announced on April 26 at Papakura Marae”.

The Minister’s announcement was a welcome commitment by this Government to address priorities for FASD. “It has long been the aim of FASD-CAN to increase awareness of FASD among professionals, as they play a crucial role in achieving healthy life outcomes for those living with FASD,” said Dr Henderson. “The research undertaken by the University of Auckland in recent years has highlighted an alarming lack of understanding around FASD, and the micro-credential is an essential step in addressing this need.” It will be helpful for people in various sectors including health, education, police, corrections, social work and mental health and addictions, as well as foster-carers, parents and whānau.

FASD-CAN would like to acknowledge and thank the kaimahi / staff at Toitū te Waiora, who also saw the need to develop bespoke qualification products for this neurodiversity. In doing so they have helped
address the misunderstandings, stigma and inequities people with FASD and their whānau face every day.

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