Best practices for justice: Practitioner views on understanding and helping youth living with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD)


  • Anita Gibbs University of Otago


youth justice, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, FASD, wellbeing, disability


INTRODUCTION: International studies and New Zealand publications note that care groups, as well as youth and adult justice populations, have high rates of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and other neuro-disabilities, alongside mental health problems and adverse childhood experiences. This research explores justice practitioner views of helping young people living with FASD, especially when they come into contact with the youth justice system in Aotearoa New Zealand.

METHODS: Semi-structured interviews were undertaken with 11 practitioners that included social workers, disability advocates, police, legal professionals, and others working in the justice space with youth living with FASD. Stakeholders were asked what practices might help youth do well in the justice space, but also what changes need to happen in systems of health, care, justice or disability in order to ensure those living with FASD have wellbeing.

FINDINGS: Practitioners noted widespread ignorance about FASD, resulting in delays in getting appropriate supports for youth living with FASD. Practitioners spoke of the importance of early diagnosis leading to early intervention but how rare that was. Wellbeing of youth was vital but there were too many barriers to fair and equal participation for youth living with FASD in all aspects of society. All systems needed to understand FASD and provide specialist FASD services and supports.

PRACTICE IMPLICATIONS: Urgent training and practice guidance is required for all professionals working in the youth justice space. Practice needs to ensure disability rights are upheld to enable flourishing and participation by young people often on the margins of society.


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How to Cite

Gibbs, A. (2022). Best practices for justice: Practitioner views on understanding and helping youth living with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD). Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 34(4), 6–18. Retrieved from



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