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Taking action on FASD rates among Maori

A UNIVERSITY of Otago researcher who works in Gisborne has been awarded a grant to undertake vital research on Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

Clinical neuropsychologist Sarah Goldsbury (Ngati Porou me Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti) has received a Clinical Research Training Fellowship worth $260,000 from the Health Research Council (HRC) to carry out research on Maori whanau experiences of neuropsychological assessment for FASD.

FASD disproportionately affects Maori in epidemic proportions, Ms Goldsbury says.

She is one of eight University of Otago researchers carrying out Maori-specific research, who have received an HRC career development award.

Ms Goldsbury is a working clinician based in Gisborne but travels throughout the country to carry out the neuropsychological component of FASD assessments for children and youth in temporary and permanent care and Youth Court.

She is also a member of the Tairawhiti FASD Working Group.

She sees some of the tamariki and rangatahi with the highest and most complex presentations, and sadly, too many are Maori, Ms Goldsbury says.

“FASD is a complex disability that many do not understand.

“There is a clear lack of systemic supports in Aotearoa to identify and support those with FASD.

“I believe we have an epidemic of FASD in Aotearoa which is largely invisible to many professionals and whanau who do not recognise what they are seeing.

“And not only are we ignoring this, but we are inadvertently judging and punishing those who have FASD, and their whanau trying to support them on a daily basis.”

Those with FASD are at risk of issues such as secondary mental health problems, trouble with the law, inappropriate sexual behaviour, alcohol and drug use, and are some of the most vulnerable members of the community, Ms Goldsbury says.

The intentional dismantling of traditional Maori society has placed Maori at much greater risk for prenatal exposure and subsequent FASD — with recent research showing 80 percent of children presenting to one assessment centre were Maori.

Her research will actively seek to integrate a Maori world view in a traditionally Western assessment process, with an aim to be representative and inclusive of whanau Maori.

As a solo parent, she would never have been able to undertake the research, which will form her PhD, without the HRC grant, Ms Goldsbury says.

“While it is a busy life, to me it is important to try to be a role model to my boy,” she says.

“He is just finishing Year 9 at school and looking to the future, and I want him to see it is achievable and realistic to engage in tertiary education and to work towards a PhD, and that being prepared to work hard can get you places and make a difference in our community.

“I would never be able to go back to university and complete a PhD while paying the mortgage and putting food on the table without the support of this fellowship from the HRC, and I am very, very grateful and appreciative for this,” she says.

She is grateful to have been gifted the privilege of being supervised by Otago Professor Suzanne Pitama as part of the university's Maori/Indigenous Health Institute.

Understanding FASD: Clinical neuropsychologist Sarah Goldsbury has received $260,000 of funding from the Health Research Council. File picture