American Indians Work To Address Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Effects on ChildrenMinnesota Public Radio on Monday as part of a six-part series on fetal alcohol syndrome examined how the condition affects American Indians in the state. According to CDC studies, the fetal alcohol rate among American Indians is 30 times higher than the rate among whites. The syndrome affects 40,000 infants in the U.S. each year, MPR reports.
Sandra Parsons, director of Family and Children's Services for the Red Lake Band of Ojibwe in northern Minnesota, said, "I would say it's very definitely a problem, almost pervasive. I haven't found anybody yet who disputes that. I think people would be literally amazed at how prevalent it might be." She added, "It's kind of one of those 'don't talk about it, don't exist' pieces. But if we are damaging our kids in those kind of numbers, somebody needs to talk about it. Somebody needs to be looking at what is the reality."
Some Minnesota tribal officials say fetal alcohol syndrome is linked to a high number of children with learning disabilities and higher drop out and prison rates on Indian reservations. Parsons said while she also believes there is a connection between fetal alcohol damage and social and behavioral problems among American Indian children, there is little scientific evidence to support such claims. Her group worked with more than 900 children last year, and many of them had behavior problems that Parsons thinks might be related to fetal alcohol syndrome.
Very few American Indian children at Red Lake are diagnosed with fetal alcohol damage, which requires involvement of specialists and diagnostic services that mostly are unavailable on reservations, according to MPR.
Many American Indian women are aware of the risks related to alcohol consumption during pregnancy, and some stop drinking when they find out they are pregnant. Mary May, a fetal alcohol abuse specialist at Leech Lake Health Division, said, "Even though we have educational efforts, I still think [pregnant American Indian women] take their cues from their family, from the society they're living in." She added, "[I]t may be one thing to say you know alcohol damages a fetus. But if everybody is drinking around you and you want to be a part of that unit, then I think that inclusion is going to be a higher need. I think there's just an incredible level of denial about alcohol affecting babies, and I'm not sure how you break through that denial."
May also said, "Women tell me that if they're drinking, they don't get prenatal care because they'll be confronted by the facts that alcohol does affect their fetus. And they just don't want to deal with the hassle of it."
Some fetal alcohol syndrome services are available, such as a diagnostic clinic at the University of Minnesota and mental health services and educational courses at reservation clinics. In addition, the White Earth Reservation recently received a five-year state grant to address prenatal alcohol exposure and will establish a reservation-based diagnostic clinic by the end of the year. However, such efforts "are expensive," and it is "unclear what happens when the money runs out," according to MPR (Robertson, MPR, 10/22).
Audio of the segment and expanded MPR coverage are available online.
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