Improving treatment and outcomes for young people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder in the youth justice system: A social work led response and practice framework

Vanessa Oatley, Anita Gibbs


INTRODUCTION: Young people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) in Aotearoa New Zealand are both primed for, and hindered within the youth justice (YJ) system. This research provides a fresh perspective on how social workers can take a lead role in ensuring young people with FASD receive neurodevelopmentally appropriate interventions both within the YJ system and upon return to their communities.

METHODS: A systematic literature review of secondary data was undertaken to explore themes, including the connection between the impacts of FASD and risk of contact with the YJ system; how FASD affects the young person’s ability to navigate the YJ system; best practice recommendations to ensure just treatment for young people in the YJ system; and the potential for social work to take a lead role in improving treatment and outcomes for young people with FASD in the YJ system.

FINDINGS: Key findings include the confirmation of the link between young people with FASD and the YJ population; consistent best practice recommendations for treatment and interventions; and a clear positive relationship between the social work mandate and the implementation of the recommended treatment for young people with FASD who have had contact with the YJ system.

PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS: Based on the research findings, an FASD-informed practice framework has been developed as a tool to guide social workers who are working with young people with FASD in the Aotearoa New Zealand YJ system and beyond.


Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder; FASD; youth; rangatahi; youth justice; social work

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